Israel: It's more complicated than that

I’m on the shores of Kinneret (Sea of Galilee to Christians) for Israel’s version of FOO Camp. A great time so far, after visiting Haifa and the area. To Tel Aviv on Sunday to speak at the Marker’s internet conference for those of you who are in the area.

The title reflects what I was told is sort of a national catchphrase. This is indeed a complex country. The first thing you can’t avoid seeing is the massive amount of security. Going into ordinary buildings, even a shopping mall can be like going to the airport in many places. Like fish in water, however, many Israelis no longer notice it the way a visitor does. Scores of times a day you will see groups of IDF with submachineguns slung on their backs, as well as solo soldiers, as all Israelis do a tour in the army. And at the same time all I have seen has been tranquil and very friendly.

More observations upon my return, bit of blogging break until then.

Don't keep secrets when "It's the Characters, Stupid"

Moore famously declared, when composing the end of the BSG story, that “It’s the Characters, Stupid.” He wanted to focus on what happened to the characters and their story, and the plot and mysteries took second place.

I can understand that philosophy in writing. However, I do believe that if this was truly the case, the right thing to do is not create giant mysteries for the audience.

Some of the best stories out there have revealed their ending early on. (Some are even non-fiction so you know the ending in advance anyway.) With the ending known, the story becomes about how we got there, rather than wondering where we are going. As such the story moves its focus to characters and away from big mysteries.

If this story was to be about how Hera became mitochondrial Eve (and in the end, that was the root of all the elements of the closing) then the best thing to do would have been to reveal that right up front. Play out that scene in New York with Ron Moore getting the inspiration for the story early on. Show the ancient Earth as being out there. (They did show us Earth at the end of season 3, but it was modern Earth due to poor communication with the graphics dept.)

Or, if you want to have the shock of finding ruined 13th colony Earth, reveal the truth after that.

The show had lots of big mysteries. Many people enjoyed it for these mysteries, but if the show is really about the characters, the mysteries were a mistake. And we still would have puzzled over them. Fans would have spent hours discussing just how they get to Earth, and just why there is no record of them, and how they could possibly have interbred and other things. While watching the characters have their journey.

It becomes clear that the whole ending is just there for the Eve plot. All the controversial parts of the ending, the ones that make no sense, are driven by it.

  • We currently date Mitochondrial Eve at 150,000 years ago. So that is when they arrive. 50,000 years ago (Great Leap Forward) makes far more sense otherwise.
  • For this to be true, they have to have been able to interbreed with the natives. And so the ridiculous ability to do so, explained as a miracle from god.
  • To have no record of their arrival they have to have discarded all their technology and ships. I haven’t read any critic who thinks this story was credible.
  • To have no record of their culture, it also had to vanish, which means they mostly got wiped out.

All these things that we fans have complained about are driven by this one cute little trick, “Hera is a sort of Eve.” Sadly, alien Eve is one of the more clichéd story lines of golden age SF. Editors even got tired of it. Moore gave it a twist, the synthetic (God and Kobolians together) Eve arriving and breeding with the natives, but it’s still a pretty poor, and unoriginal plot twist. It doesn’t justify having to tear apart so much that was good in the show.

A lot of fans are not understanding mitochondrial Eve very well either. Here is an article about her, and here is a later post on this blog about Mitochondrial Eve.

Kevin Grazier apologizes for Tomb of Athena, etc.

Well, I had to pull my hair out a bit to read this post-series interview with BSG Science Advisor Kevin Grazier

In particular he is asked what he regrets getting wrong. One regret is boring, but the other floored me. It was only the climactic scene of the first season arc, where they come to Kobol looking for a clue to Earth and find, in the Tomb of Athena, the map of the stars of Earth and the realization that the flags of the 12 tribes have constellations from the Zodiac of Earth on them.

Most of us viewed that scene as a big revelation. It said, without equivocation, “This show is in the future.” Kobol’s culture and flags came from Earth. It was a big deal. Later, it was revealed it was the sky of the “first Earth” or 13th colony, but it still demanded a secret history to Kobol.

The other (regret) is I wish I would have been more instant with the constellations in Home Part 2. Because when you start thinking about those constellations, who put them there? Wasn’t the Kobolians. Those aren’t seen from the original Earth, so where did those constellations come from?

He may be saying he knew but could not convince Moore, or that perhaps he realized later. Either way, the show could have thrown us a bone. You don’t want to tell fans your secrets, but if you make a mistake, and fans are interpreting the show differently because of it, throw something in. Have somebody ask, “Isn’t it odd how our flags are those constellations?” And Ellen Tigh says, “Oh, that. In our history, we learned that the founders of the planet stretched and played with the flags to figure a way to draw them in the sky, since it was a cute idea to name our new constellations after our lost makers.” Something. Anything.

I take Grazier to task for two other things: Participating in the horrible ending, and his statement that you would not be able to find a star given photographs of the constellations visible from it. He declares that to be np-complete, ie. you can’t do it in a time that goes up in a polynomial way with the number of stars in your database. I contend you can, and in fact it’s one of the simpler polynomials.

Why you don't want gods in your fiction

I won’t deny that some of my distaste for the religious ending comes from my own preference for a realistic SF story, where everything that happens has a natural, rather than supernatural explanation, and that this comes in part from my non-religious worldview.

Nonetheless, I believe there are many valid reasons why you don’t want to have interventionist gods in your fiction. God should not be a character in your story, unless you are trying to write religious fiction like Left Behind or Touched by an Angel.

The reason is that God, as we know, works in strange and mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. We don’t expect to understand them. In fact, there is not even a requirement that they make sense. Some even argue that if you’re going to write authentic fiction with God as a character his actions should not make sense to the characters or the reader.

The author of a story is “god” in that they can write whatever they want. But in real, quality fiction, the author is constrained as to what they will do. They are supposed to make their stories make sense. Things should happen for a reason. If the stories are about characters, things should happen for reasons that come from the characters. If the story is also about setting, as SF is, reasons come from the setting. Mainstream fiction tries to follow all the rules of the real world. SF tries to explore hypothetical worlds with different technology, or new science, or even ways of living. Fantasy explores fantastic worlds, but when done properly, the author defines the new rules and sticks to them.

But if you make a divine character, even an offscreen divine character, you give the author too much power. They can literally write anything, and declare it to be the will of god. You don’t want your writer able to do that. You may want them to be able to start with anything, but once started the story should make sense.

As BSG ended, Adama and Baltar describe (correctly, but not strongly enough) how improbable it is that evolved humans can mate with the colonials. In reality, the only path to this is common ancestry, ie. the idea that humans from our-Earth were taken from it and became the Kobolians. But Baltar is able to explain it all away in one line with his new role as priest, it’s the will of god.

In a good story, you don’t get to explain things this way. You need to work a bit harder.

Now, if you absolutely must have a god, you want to constrain that god. That’s not too far-fetched. If you were writing a story in Christianity, and you depicted Jesus torturing innocents, people would not accept it, they would say it’s at odds with how Jesus is defined (though Yaweh had fewer problems with it.) BSG’s god is never defined well enough to have any constraints.

He,and his minions, are certainly capricious though. Genocides, Lies, Manipulations, exploding star systems, plotting out people’s lives, leading Starbuck to her death to achieve goals which could easily have been done other ways. Making that cycle of genocide repeat again and again until random chance breaks it. Not the sort of god we can draw much from. (One hopes if we are going to have gods in our fiction, they provide some moral lesson or other reason for being there rather than to simply be a plot device that explains things that make no sense.)

In literature, bringing in the arbitrary actions at the end of a story to resolve the plot is called a Deus ex Machina and it’s frowned upon for good reasons. The BSG god was introduced early on, so is not a last minute addition. People will disagree, but I think the divinely provided link to real Earth is last minute, in the sense that nothing in the story to that point tells you real Earth is out there, just the rules of drama (that the name “Earth” means something to the audience other than that ruined planet.)

If you want to write religious fiction, of course you can. I’m less interested in reading it. Moore said he did not intend to write this. He wrote the miniseries and made the Cylons monotheists and the colonials polytheists (like the original) and the network came back and said that was really interesting. So he expanded it.

But he expanded it from something good — characters who have religious beliefs — to something bad. The religious beliefs were true. But they were some entirely made-up religion with little correspondence to any Earth religion (even the Buddhism that Moore professes) and as such with no relevance to the people who tend to seek out religious fiction.

Giving religions to the characters is good. It’s real. It’s an important part of our society worth exploring. However, resolving that some of the beliefs are correct, and bringing in the hand of god is another matter.

More loose ends

  • The Colony had several base ships. When it started breaking apart, base ships full of Cavils, Dorals and Simons should have jumped away. What happened to them, and why won’t they come a calling soon? (God’s will?)
  • Likewise, a force of Cavils, Dorals and Simons was invading Galactica and was in a temporary truce when fighting broke out again and Galactica jumped. What happened to them. In particular, since the first Hybrid predicted the splintered Cylon factions would be joined together again, why didn’t they?
  • We never resolved why the first Earth was destroyed 2,000 years ago, and that this was the same time as the fall of Kobol and exodus of the 12 tribes. Was this just a big mistake and all 13 tribes were supposed to flee at the same time?
  • I don’t know for sure about 150,000 years ago (it comes and goes) but 135,000 years ago the Sahara was covered by large lakes.

Creationism and the Abduction theory

The posts will come fast and furious in the next two days.

First I want to cover a little more about why this ending is of so much concern to many viewers. While many will accept that it is unscientific, and just say that they never cared that much about such things, the particular errors and issues of the final plot are rather special. What we saw was not merely spacecraft making sound in space or FTL drives or some other random scientific error.

The error in BSG centers around the most pernicious anti-scientific idea of our day: Creationism/Intelligent Design. In particular, it tells the “Ark” story, though it sets it 150,000 years ago rather than 4,000. And, because Moore knows the Ark story is totally bogus, he tries to fix it, by having the alien colonists able to breed with us humans, and thus having the final result be a merger of the two streams of humanity. That’s better than the pure Ark story, and perhaps enough better that I see some viewers are satisfied with it, but with deeper examination, it is just as bad an idea, and perhaps in its way more pernicious because it is easier for people to accept the flaws.

SF writers have been writing the Ark story since the dawn of SF. Indeed, the alien Adam and Eve plot is such a cliche from the 40s that you would have a hard time selling it to an SF magazine today. Not simply because it’s nonsense, but because it became overused back in the day when it wasn’t as obvious to people how nonsensical it was.

The Ark story is not just any bad science. It’s the worst bad science there is. Because there are dedicated forces who want so much for people to accept the Ark story as possible. Normally busy scientists would not even bother to debunk a story like that, but they spend a lot of time debunking this one because of the dedicated religious forces who seek to push it into schools and other places religion does not belong. And debunk it they have, and very solidly. The depth of the debunking is immense, and can’t be covered in this blog. I recommend the archive with their giant FAQ for answers to many of the questions about this.

BSG plays a number of tricks to make the Ark story more palatable. It puts it back further in time, prior to the migrations of humanity out of Africa. (Oddly, it also has Adama spread the people around the continents, which simply means all the ones who did not stay in Africa died out without a trace or any descendents.) It makes it a merger rather than a pure origin to account for the long fossil and geological record. It has the aliens destroy all their technology and cast it into the sun to explain why there is no trace of it.

It does all those things, but in the end, the explanation remains religious. As the story is shown, you still need to invoke a variety of divine miracles to make it happen, and the show does indeed do this. The humans, on this planet, are the same species as aliens from another galaxy, due to the plan of God. They have cats and dogs and the rest, even though 150,000 years ago, humans have yet to domesticate any animals. Indeed, god has to have designed the colonials from the start to be the same species as the natives of Earth, it all has to have been set up many thousands of years ago. This is “intelligent design,” the form of creationism that gets dressed like science to help make it more palatable. It is also a pernicious idea.

In one fell swoop, BSG changes from science fiction — hard, soft or otherwise — to religious fiction, or religious SF if you wish. Its story, as shown, is explained on screen as being divine intervention. Now, thanks to BSG, there will be discussion of the ending. But it will involve the defenders of science having to explain again why the Ark story is silly and ignores what we know of biology. I am shocked that Kevin Grazier, who advocates science teaching for children, including biology, was willing to be a part of this ending.

Sadly this ending goes beyond being bad SF.

How to make it work.

Now there is one plot which BSG did not explore which would have made a lot of sense if they wanted to tell this story. It’s been noted on this blog a few times, but discounted because we believed BSG had a “no aliens” rule. This is what I called the “Alien Abduction plot.”

In this plot, aliens — in this case the God, who does not have to be a supernatural god — captured humans and various plants and animals from real Earth many thousands of years ago. The god took them to Kobol, and possibly with other gods (the Lords of Kobol) created a culture and raised them there. From this flows our story.

This plot has been used many times. Recently in Ken Macleod’s “Cosmonaut Keep” series the characters find a human culture way out in the stars, populated by people taken by “gods” (highly advanced beings) a long time ago. The same idea appears in Rob Sawyer’s dinosaur series, and many other books.

Do this, and it suddenly explains why the colonials are the same species as the people on Earth, but more advanced. It does not explain their cats and dogs, or their Earth idioms, but those can be marked down to drama. (They would have to have independently domesticated cats and dogs and other animals, as this had not happened on Earth. Same for the plants. The gods could also have done this for them.)

This plot works well enough that it’s surprising no hint of it was left in the show. I do not believe it was the intention of the writers, though I would love to see post-show interviews declaring that it was.

And even this plot has a hard time explaining what happened to their culture, the metal in their teeth and many other items. For try as they might they could not abandon all their technology. Even things that seem very basic to the Colonials, like better spears, writing, animal and plant domestication, knives, sailboats, complex language and so many other things are still aeons ahead of the humans. They plan to breed with the humans, and will be taking them into their schools and educating them. There was a sudden acceleration of culture 50,000 years ago, but not 150,000. And then there’s the artificial DNA in Hera and any other Cylon descendents. (And no, Hera isn’t the only person we are supposed to be descended from, she is just the source of the maternal lines.) But maybe you can shoehorn it in, which makes it surprising it wasn’t used.

The idea, taken from the old series, that the Greeks would have taken some of their culture from the aliens also is hard to make work. Why do their cultural ideas and now hopefully debunked (to them) polytheist religion show up nowhere else but Greece and eventually Rome? How do they get there, and only there, over 140,000 years of no writing, hunter-gatherer life? I am not a student of classical cultures, but I believe we also have lots of evidence of the origin and evolution of our modern Greek myths. They did not spring, pardon the phrase, fully formed from the head of Zeus. Rather they are based on older and simpler stories we have also traced. But the alien religion is based on our modern concepts of ancient Greek religion.

Even in 5,000 to 10,000 years, there would be a moderate amount of genetic drift in the Kobol environment, including the artificial genetic manipulation involved with Cylons. Since we learn that Africa has more game than the 12 colonies, it’s clear the colonials did not have all of Earth’s animals. It is contact with animals that generates most of our diseases. When different groups of humans get separated for many thousands of years, with different animals, the result is major plagues when they meet. Without divine intervention, the colonials are about to be reduced to a small fraction of their population. Especially after tossing their hospitals into the sun. (Why don’t we see any sick people saying, “Excuse me, do I get a vote on this whole abandon technology idea?)


The other plot which could have explained this I called the “Atlantis” plot. In this plot there is an advanced civilization long ago which reaches the stars but falls and disappears without a trace. It is the civilization that colonizes Kobol and becomes as gods. This requires no aliens. This is not their chosen plot, since it’s even harder to explain how this civilization left no trace, since it would not have gone to the technology destroying extremes the Colonists are shown to do.

Coming up: Why religious SF is a bad idea, even if you believe in the religion. (Hint: while the author is god, you don’t want them to really use that power.)

The good, the bad, the horrible

Readers of this blog won’t have to guess my disappointment with the 2nd half of the finale. And yes, I will tear apart how silly, and pointless the way Moore wanted to end it was.

But first, there were some good parts. The space battle fans were looking for. They last Betrayal by boomer and her flashback. And for one moment, I was impressed that they were able to completely surprise me by making it look like they would have a negotiated settlement with Cavil. That would have been bold TV, for it is actually how many wars end. But Tory’s secret made it not to happen, and Tyrol’s emotions once more muck everything up. They didn’t show it, but this could have been made more complex if he could have restored some memories of his happy life with Tory when they were shacked up and engaged, overwhelmed by the murder. But he is forgiven again.

I felt the Colony should have been, as Simon said, vastly superior militarily. They did much better against it than you would think, and the few nukes in that raptor should not have been able to do that much damage. However, fortunately the singularity, in spite of all our speculations, played no part in the result. Cavil’s suicide was surprising but quickly cast aside in the story. His other copies may or may not have died if the colony was truly destroyed. Since it had many base ships which could jump away, one should presume many of them survived.

The song did turn out to be coordinates for real Earth, as many expected. And of course, this is where the show hurt itself, undid so much of the good it had done to this point.

Now, of course, readers will know I am particularly bothered by it being set in the past. Moore said long ago he knew man evolved on Earth, and he kept that — sort of. But first I’ll start with the criticisms that have nothing to do with when they set the story, for literally up to the last 2 minutes they could have fixed the story so easily by zooming to a broken Statue of Liberty on the beach. And that is the great shame, for there was so little story need to ruin everything. It’s often been written by fans that they don’t care about the science, that the writers will have a story to tell, and if the science has to bend to tell a good story, they can. But they could have told 99% of the story they wanted without screwing up the science very much. The great shame is they took what could have been greatness and dashed it on the rocks for one little hook.

Leaving out the science…

I simply could never find it credible that they would fly their fleet into the sun. (Nor, for that matter, did it make sense that Sam should die to do so, because he was certainly not a lost cause at that point, and in fact one imagines the remaining 4 might have knowledge together to help him. Or the 5 if Galen had not been so rash.) A computer could easily have flown the fleet into the sun. (Though I did smile at the re-use of the original music at this point. I didn’t like a lot from the old show but I did like that theme.)

Yes, they wanted a new start, a clean slate. But throw their hospitals into the sun? Most of their planes? It boggled my mind. Those who had any health problems would not be so ready to destroy their technology. Yes, the virgin Earth is full of game and fruit, and life there could be idyllic — with medicine — but this was brushed over completely. There should have at least been factions opposed. And those factions would have won, of course, because they would soon have been militarily dominant.

Laura did see the promised land. That doesn’t bother me, the cycle was broken, at least for a while.

Minor issue — Adama says they came a million light years. There is no other galaxy a million light years from Earth. . We will presume he’s just using it as a big number, though. (In fact, on further reflection, this must be the case as they are able to jump Raptors back to collect the fleet. So they are actually quite close to the other scenes of the show.)

I was surprised to see that Baltar knew that Six had nefarious “Employers.” This makes him way more evil than he ever ways shown to be at the start. I had always presumed he was duped, just letting a hot, bright assistant get more access than she should, not assisting a known spy in exchange for sex. This somehow hurt his redemption in my eyes.

And Kara’s resolution just didn’t work for me. Fine, she’s been an angel ever since she crossed into the maelstrom. That whole plot seems to provide so little now. She had physical form, her DNA could be tested, but “poof” she disappears when she feels her task is done.

And why all the fakeouts about sadness and death? Laura dies, as everybody expected for 3 years. Sam dies, to no real purpose. Boomer dies, because Athena is vindictive and forgets she has valuable intel. Starbuck doesn’t die, not really. Tory dies — who cares? And yes, Galactica dies, but because they drive her into the Sun.

The horrible, horrible science

Now some will say, all of this can be accepted because it’s the sudden will of God. That there would be humans, DNA compatible humans from another galaxy is so impossible it could only happen by divine intervention. Which I find highly unsatisfactory in a show of this type. Once you start solving your problems with sudden divine intervention, literally God in the Machine in this case, you make your story much less meaningful. Everything is as it is not because of the characters and their strengths and their story, but because God set it up.

God also had to do something rather un-godlike. If the colonials are the same species as our ancestors, then the diseases of Earth would have wiped out the colonials pretty quickly, and the diseases of the colonials would have done serious horror to the Africans too. The colonials came with dogs, cats and other animals, and God must have made them be exactly the same as the dogs and cats of Earth, who of course have been here for many millions of years. And their diseases too. God has to do a lot to make this story work. And God can indeed do anything. But I’ve already read that book, and didn’t much care for it.

Strangely, though it is 150,000 years ago, Adama plans to spread people all over the place. This actually makes little sense, and doesn’t match the pattern of human migration. Humans spread out from Africa in several waves, but only the last one (about 80,000 years ago) stuck. The expeditions Adama sent died off, leaving nothing. No faction decided to build cities or technology. In fact, all the people pretty quickly collapsed to primitive states, without technology and without writing, which didn’t come to us until quite recently.

It would have made more sense if they had timed this to the “Great leap forward” when human culture suddenly accelerated, which was 50,000 years ago. Once you accept God doing all this magic stuff to make this plot work, at least that could have had some consistency with history. But instead, the colonials quickly came to the life of our ancestors, nasty, brutish and short, with a lifespan of 30. No happy ending there.

New York

All of this plot could have been saved if in a final pan, they had come to a modern ruined artifact, changing the date — and of course removing that final scene of the Angels in New York. Of course a Statue of Liberty would have been very cute, but anything would have done.

Suddenly all of it can make sense. No need for god to be creating DNA miracles — of course they are the same species. They are just the remnants of humanity on a war-destroyed planet, reduced to primitive life. Perhaps even by choice, just like the colonials. Write that story and you could have told this very same episode without bogus science. You just could not have put the Angels in New York to make a few snide comments and melodramatic warnings about the dangers of robots.

Was that short scene worth it? Not at all. Because the truth is, a logically consistent, realistic ending would have done far more for the show’s message. Made it far more respected and remembered. By doing it well, the whole show’s overall message about the dangers of robotics would have been far stronger, far more lasting. It would have been saying, “We just told you a story of how misuse of AI did bring this world to ruin” rather than “This story of danger comes from a distant and fantastical past which makes no sense, and is not really our past.”

What a great waste. While I do crave more realism and less mumbo-jumbo, even those who don’t have that taste can realize that the fault here is not simply a lack of attention to science. It’s a lack of attention to meaning. What could have been one of the greatest SF shows of all time, with a lasting message, cuts off its own legs in the last 3 minutes for highly unimportant reasons. I suspect that for years to come, people will say BSG was “Great, except for the stupid ending.”

And if Starbuck was going to be an angel who can just vanish, could they not have let her have a scene in New York with Baltar and Six? Yes, the Ron Moore cameo was cute. The mitochondrial Eve story, which is where they got the 150,000 years from, is widely misunderstood. This woman is not “Eve” like in the Bible, she is just the most recent of a million common ancestors we all have. They mucked it up just for that?

Loose ends

  • Baltar’s women and their weapons
  • The reason for Starbuck’s long strange fate and journey, if she’s really a non-corporeal being of sorts.
  • Just who is this God and why does he work in these strange and mysterious ways? Why does he not like being called God by his minions? Who are they anyway, and where did they come from? Is this just some strange new theology thrown in at end without explanation, to roughly parallel our notions of angels?
  • Why did the 12 tribes take their flags from the sky of the 13th colony?
  • Why did D’Anna say “You were right” to Baltar?
  • What was the Ionian nebula about? Why the strange power shutdown? Why did Roslin faint? How were the Cylons waiting?
  • Who wrote All along the Watchtower? (Looks like it’s God.)

Broken promises

No time travel? That opera house scene was indeed a vision of the future, very concrete. It goes beyond simply being made to happen by the beings who planted it, or so it seems. Ditto some other prophecies like that of the First Hybrid.

The Truth of the Opera House

Posts on episode-day usually get quickly overtaken by the new episode, so I am holding off some general articles I have for post-show. But with 3 hours to go, I thought I would open up speculation on two topics I haven’t gotten a large read on. These are the Opera House and All along the Watchtower. I’ve read much speculation about both.

Update: Well, the real truth about the Opera House turned out to be quite disappointing. Just a background to use in a vision of an ordained event having nothing to do with Kobol or the Opera House. This was different from a flash-forward or foreshadowing, as it was an actual god-inspired-vision, but what did it mean? “In the future, the final 5 will be on a balcony and look down at Six and Baltar carrying Hera, after Roslin and Athena chased and lost her.” It was just an event, really, with very little meaning. What happened after (Cavil is on the bridge, and he grabs her and there is a peace deal) had meaning, but not the vision itself.

The ancient Kobol opera house, now in ruins, was never occupied by the Final Five, except perhaps on their brief stop at Kobol on their way to the colonies, well after it had been ruined. But it has been their home in visions. They appear on its stage on 5 of 6 drapes in the vision of their faces given to D’Anna. They appear on the balcony as five glowing figures — at least we’re pretty sure it’s them — in the vision shared by Roslin, Six, Athena, Hera and sometimes Baltar of Hera’s chase. Its stage was also the setting for the vision of Hera in her crib before she was born. Only Baltar, Six and Hera go through the doors at the end, into the light. The Five watch and Athena and Roslin can’t get there.

So what is “the truth” of this vision? Roslin we have all been confident does not make it to the promised land. Hera has visions of Six. Baltar’s head six insisted for the first season that Hera was the child of Baltar and Head Six, but real Caprica Six also experiences this vision. Helo’s out of the picture.

Now my prediction has been that we’ll see death for the Final Five, Roslin, Helo and Athena. And while Baltar would normally get a redemption-by-death, we keep getting prophecies of him being father to Hera, so his continued life, and Six’s make sense. Is this all that it shows?

And what does it mean that Head Six is the one who constantly declares that she is to be Hera’s mother, along with Baltar? Head Six is not Caprica Six. She just looks like her. Caprica Six may not even be aware that Head Six exists. In the vision on Kobol, it is Head Six and Baltar that are holding the newborn. But Caprica Six experiences the vision. Are the two characters more connected than I suspect?

The Opera House also ties into a few references we’ve seen to the stage as a metaphor for life. In a podcast commentary about a deleted scene, Moore talked about life on ancient Kobol in terms of the 4th wall. That the Gods observed the humans like players, and that by creating their own Cylon artificial life, the humans broke the 4th wall.

As for Watchtower, I’ve read many theories on the lyrics. A lot of them point to the fact that the song is often interpreted as being in reverse; that to understand its story you must read the stanzas in reverse order. It begins with the princes on the watchtower seeing the figures approaching, and ends with the Joker and Thief having their conversation. We’ve seen many interpretations for which characters might represent the Joker, the Thief or other figures. I must admit that none of these interpretations has shouted out to me as obviously right. A few are clever, but none have the big resonance of truth. While AATW is a favourite song of Moore’s, he didn’t write the story to match the song. At most he may have tweaked it so that it fits with the song. Or the lyrics may not have much close association at all.

AATW was a rather unusual song to use in a drama like this. The characters make many Earth culture references over the course of the show, quoting Shakespeare, using common Earth idioms, taking lines from Earth nursery rhymes etc. This is normal in any literature. The key is that for all of these other references, the author is either lost in time or dead. AATW is unusual in that it’s a famous song by a living author. In the podcast, Moore says that in this universe, Anders is the author of the song, but our string puller has taken it as his or her own, and used it to not just turn on the Final Five, but also injected it into Hera and Starbuck’s father. (Or rather, McCreary’s bass/sitar opening that he added to the song.)

There will be lots of analysis after the show ends this weekend, though after that I will be visiting Israel and not commenting so much. I expect to be right about a few things, wrong about a bunch more. My formerly most confident prediction (This is in the far future of real Earth) now has had to drop many levels of confidence, and few of the predictions are at a high confidence level. I will try to be honest and post a scorecard after the show is done.

Could they really live together?

We’ve been told since season one that “god’s plan” is to unite the Cylons and humans, in particular through a hybrid race in Hera. The Final Five can breed with the 7, and I suspect with the humans, but I suspect the Final Five will all die, their race entirely wiped out.

But could a society of such unequals really work out? We suspect, though can’t be sure, that the 7 Cylons don’t age. If they do age it would have been cruel of Ellen to make John in the form of an old man. They’re much stronger, much more physically capable, smarter on average (Baltar things his six is the smartest woman he has ever met) and can talk to computers through their fingers. They can communicate through projection and live in projected worlds.

Which of those attributes the mixed-breeds will have we don’t know, but Hera at least can project. Indeed, they might not all be the same. Some might have more of mommy, some might have more of daddy.

We’ve had a hard enough time with racial tension in a world where the races are physically and mentally on the same level. What kind of world would it be with two different and differently capable races, and their mixed children of different abilities. Unless almost all the humans die, most of the children in this world will be human. Only Hera and a few others to start will be mixed. And all this is not even counting the resentments of “you enslaved us” and “you genocided us.” How can the race wars not flare up again?

It’s a hugely tall order. Another commenter wonders what happens if the “good guys” mostly die in the attack on the Colony leaving Baltar and the mutineers to lead the mixed society. Is Adama thinking through what happens if he fails? Is he thinking through what happens if he succeeds?

You’ve probably read of a bunch of podcast revelations:

  • Daniel is not Starbuck’s father, or much more than a way to explain the numbering gap.
  • No, the very Jupiter like red giant that Boomer stops at is not the real Jupiter.
  • The Final Five’s original ship is buried inside the giant Colony structure. The Centurions built it with the Five after the war.
  • The head beings are real, they are “Messengers” and this will be explained.
  • Oddly, the Colony is the “Cylonia” home base of the Cylons they never planned to show.
  • As he’s said before, the final will be about the fate of the characters more than it is about wrapping up the plot.

One thought about the F5 ship. It of course was able to resurrect the final 5 on its own. Unless that equipment was actually removed to go into the now destroyed hub, it’s not out of the question that it might still work for the Final Five. The 7 are different, so it would not work for them, though the Five designed the 7’s hub and equipment to work on themselves. This might offer a plot opening — a member of the Five, killed in the assault, would suddenly appear, with full memories, deep in Cavil’s lair.

However, I do expect the Final Five to all die, so this would be a one time use, if it happens at all.

Another interesting thought from the comments: If the virus plot is to happen (and it’s looking less like it will) it would be cute if the notes of the song turn out to provide access to the Colony network, courtesy of the OTG. We can imagine Baltar and Six coming to look at the notes, and Six saying, “that looks like of the access codes to our computer network” or to a Centurion inhibitor. OK, I can still hope for this plot because I like the full circle nature of it. But the numbers in the music are going to give them something; perhaps a weapon, perhaps the coordinates of a planet.

Moore’s podcast comment about Cylonia is difficult to reconcile, because John/Cavil says that the other Cylons don’t know about the Colony. Simon and Doral, as I said before, surely have to have asked, “Why don’t I remember this place?” Perhaps, in spite of the language we have been using, the “Colony” is a small and hidden subset within this Cylonia.

And for the brotherhood of us hoping for the “Real Earth,” the fairly decent (I normally detest making-of shows) clip show “The Last Frakking Special” which aired Monday and will air again this week included the famous “Zoom to Real Earth” clip from the end of the third season. Many fans have wondered about this clip, showing a real, present-day (though that may not have been their intention) Earth with the obvious North America, when none of the scenes of the 13th colony Earth showed any recognizable features or stars. That clip kept people hoping, and still does, though Espenson’s offhand remark about humanity coming from Kobol dashed a lot of that hope. While Ron Moore and the rest probably had very little to do with the clip show, the inclusion of this clip makes you feel they are not wishing they had never included it.

Undoing bonuses after a failure

The news of the past few days has been full of anger that AIG is paying $165 million in bonuses out to managers who drove the company into insolvency, using federal bailout money to do it. The excuse — these bonuses were guaranteed in contracts.

This may be the case. I have always thought it strange when a contract includes a mandatory bonus and not sure what the point is. A normal bonus is contingent on some metrics of personal or corporate success. If this is the case here, did they just design their metrics so badly that the goals were met even in light of driving the company into the ground?

However, if you’ve been through a corporate buy-out or rescue, you know that contractual rewards like these get nullified fairly often. Usually it’s presented as a choice between getting your bonus from a bankrupt company (and thus being in line with other creditors to collect nothing, or a small fraction) or renegotiating your contract to help the rescued company get the deal. You can be a hold-out, of course, but only if it is your plan to resign, since the new management, and the people who did renegotiate, will have no interest in working with you.

Stockholders get this done to them all the time. They have various rights in the stockholder agreement, but the white knight says, “No deal unless we redo those agreements from scratch with new terms.” Stockholder agreements can be renegotiated for everybody with not everybody agreeing, however, unlike bonus agreements.

The buyout of AIG was of course different. First of all it was done in an emergency, to keep confidence in the economy. And it was done by the government, which had no choice but to do it. With no choice, the normal threat of “Fix the bonus contracts or we won’t do the rescue” was not an option for the government. And finally, the government is easy to embarrass politically. It has to be seen as benevolent, unlike a corporate raider or rescuer.

Still, I am surprised they could not make it clear that it’s “Take your contracted bonus and resign with a stink on your name, or lower/eliminate your bonus and keep your job.” Perhaps they did, but the bonuses are so sweet that the former is the easy choice. This case is famous enough that those who decided to take their bonus and leave would become well known, or at least their circumstances would be well known. A resume that says “Left AIG March 09” would be one that spoke of failure and greed.

It may just be a lesson that companies need to do better at writing bonus contracts, so they don’t pay off in the event of total company failure, or any failure connected to the employee of this scale. These would not be hard to negotiate. At the table, you can’t seriously stand up and demand you get your bonus even if you drive the company into the ground. You can’t make that a deal-breaker.

Update: A NYT Op-Ed on other ways to get out of bonus contracts.

Are Solar Panels a wasteful way to go green?

Last week I wrote about what I consider the main goal of green electricity efforts, namely to stop burning coal. You can do that, to some extent, by removing demand from the grid in places where the grid is coal-heavy. Even in other places, removing demand from the grid will be fairly effective at reducing the production of greenhouse gases.

Update: Since this article a flood of cheap solar panels from China has been changing some of the economics discussed here. I have not altered the article but some of its conclusions deserve adjustment.

No matter what you do — conserve, or put up solar or wind — your goal is to take power off the grid. Many people however, consciously or unconsciously take a different goal — they want to feel that they are doing the green thing. They want their electricity to be clean. This is actually a dangerous idea, I believe. Electrons are electrons. In terms of reducing emissions, you get the exact same result if you put a solar panel on your house than if you put it on your neighbour’s house. You even get a better result if you put it on a house that’s powered by a coal plant, so long as you also reap the benefit (in dollars) of the electricity it makes.

People don’t like to accept this, but it’s much better to put a wind turbine somewhere windy than on your own house. Much better to put a solar panel somewhere sunny than on your own house. And much better in all cases if the power you offset is generated by more by coal than at your house.

However, the real consequences are much deeper. The following numbers reveal it is generally a bad idea to put up solar panels at all, at least right now. That’s because, as you will see below, solar panels are a terrible way to spend money and time to make greener electricity. Absolutely dreadful. Their only attribute is making you feel good because they are on your roof. But you should not feel good, because you could (in theory, and I believe with not much work in practice) have made the planet much greener by using the money you spent on the panels in other ways.

The true goal is to find the method that provides the most bang per buck in removing load from the dirty grid.

Keep reading to see the math and a spreadsheet with some very surprising numbers about what techniques do that the best.  read more »

Naked Singularities and Antarctica

In the first part of Daybreak, we are told that the Colony is in the accretion disk (a reasonably close orbit) of a naked singularity. Naked singularities are an unsettled question in physics. Some don’t think they can exist, others say they can. Here is an explanation from Scientific American written from the pro side.

Such singularities, if they exist, are still massive and have a deep gravity well, but the singularity is not covered by an event horizon. There may be an event horizon present (black hole,) but it is outside it.

The presence of such an object seems important. You just don’t throw one of these into a show if you don’t intend to use it. A black hole or singularity is highly powerful and destructive. So it may exist just to provide a destructive tool, something that can be used to even the odds in the otherwise futile attempt to attack something as large as the Colony.

That’s not so easy. Because singularities and black holes have such deep gravity wells, you can’t just push the colony into one, any more than you could push the Moon into the Earth. Once in orbit, you are very stable, and in fact absent friction you would stay there forever. Pushing something in orbit around a massive object into the massive object is actually harder to do than pushing something far away that is not in orbit, as counterintuitive as that sounds. If you were still in space, and you wanted to put something into the sun, you would just drop it. From the Earth, in orbit around the sun, it would be much harder to get something to go to the sun.

Near a massive object, there are strong tides on anything that is as large as the colony. This is to say, the gravitational force on the close part of the colony is stronger than the force on the distant part, resulting in a net force that would be trying to tear it apart. The colony would have to be strong if it is subject to such tides. However, if there were such tides, you would find the close and far ends of the colony regularly pelted with rocks which would be orbiting at different speeds than the colony as a whole is. If the rocks are still with respect to the colony, tides are not strong.

That one can jump to the mouth of the colony opens up one of the scientific issues with all forms of teleport. The colony has vastly different gravitational energy, space curvature, kinetic energy and angular momentum than ordinary flat space. BSG FTL jumps, however, seem to somehow account for all that, ignoring important rules of conservation. When they jump near a planet, they seem to jump into orbit around it, rather than watching it zoom away.

Many SF stories that have FTL jumps, by the way, make it a rule that jumps can’t do this, they must be done from relatively flat space to relatively flat space. You can’t jump near anything. They do this not simply to be more accurate. Limiting jump technology is a good idea as it can be a plot killer. It’s good to make it hard. If you have it, anybody can escape from anything, anybody can get into anything, and anybody can put a bomb anywhere. When Galactica jumped into the atmosphere in Exodus, it was wicked cool, but also generated a lot of plot holes. Why don’t they do this all the time? Why do colonial ships even have the ability to fly in space, if they could just jump from atmosphere to atmosphere? Why don’t they just jump nuclear bombs next to targets in the middle of battles? Better not to have to ask those questions.

Naked Singularities and SF

SF Writers love naked singularities, because the rules of physics break down. They feel they can write anything, use them as a handy plot device, because nothing you write would be known to be wrong. That’s not quite true, but naked singularities have become a standard in the toolbox for writers that want to do FTL jumping, time travel and alternate realities.

Does this mean we’re in for this? I would be disappointed because this naked singularity has been introduced only in the last episode. I don’t like it if a story resolves its problems with something magically powerful, out of the blue, in the last episode. That cheats the audience. Some readers here think there have been hints of singularity based teleportation. They point to the maelstrom from which Starbuck’s body was transported after the viper exploded. They think this suggests a singularity inside the maelstrom. Leaving aside the questions of the difficulty of having that in physics, this show already has teleportation in the form of FTL jump ships, so the OTG hardly needs to bring in a singularity.

Others have wondered if the singularity might be the path to our real universe, an alternate universe from that of BSG. Now the truth is that travel “through” a naked singularity is a concept that SF writers love but which is actually quite difficult to work out in reality, even with the little we know. But leaving that aside, it is writable in the traditions of the SF that uses naked singularities. Would this ending satisfy you as a “wrap it up” ending? I can’t say it would do so for me.

Ron Moore of course, as a writer for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, has a history with magic wormholes, though he didn’t create the setting for that show. To my mind the most satisfactory plot use of the singularity would be as a means to make it possible to destroy the colony, but it is a strange enough object to introduce that I suspect it will be more.


Several have noticed that the land mass shown on the blue planet with sunrise at the start of the episode is Antarctica. It follows the land patterns precisely. The editing tells us this is Caprica. Is it just the graphics crew using some stock images to make it easy to make a realistic Caprica? Or is it a subtle hint that real Earth is out there?

First of all, the land mass is brown, not white. But we saw Earth in “Crossroads” at the end of season 3 and it had normal sea levels. It was not a planet of melted polar ice caps.

Secondly, the stars in the background, which have come to be less and less reliable, are the stars of the solar system, but they are from the Zodiac. As you can figure out, if you were looking at the Earth over the south pole, the stars in the background would be those of the north pole, such as the little dipper and North Star, and the stars around them. The sun, however, only appears in the Zodiac, and it never appears where they show it in this picture. Of course, they have used the Earth stars in the wrong way many times now, but you would think that if they were showing real Earth, they would take some care this one special time.

Finally, the terminator (day-night line), instead of going from polar region to polar region, curves east-west. It does do this in Antarctic winter (July) though I am not sure it ever gets quite like this, with the sun rising in the North, rather than slightly east or west of North.

So, hint of Earth, or graphics dept. borrowing some images?


Something revealed in the comments that I didn’t know. The reason we have seen Anders in a hospital bed or in a tank for all these episodes is external to the show. The actor, Michael Trucco, broke his neck in a car accident and was still recovering when this was shot. He is better now, except for some fused vertebrae, but back then he really couldn’t act below the neck! So Anders the perfect machine, one with Galactica, looks like a last minute addition to the plot, but it’s going reasonably well.

Asian style writing

In the zoom-overs on Caprica, it is interesting to note that four buildings have Asian style writing on them. I don’t think it’s actual asian writing (perhaps those who can read it will tell us) but it is obviously styled on it and reads downwards rather than left to right. In one case, there is a street with three shops with asian style signs, and a 3rd saying “McCool” — it’s quite common for Asian streets to have signs with English words.

On the other hand, Laura’s door says “701” in good old arabic numerals. In Asia they use those as well.

This implies that the Capricans really write with an Asian script. But all papers and signs on Galactica are in English, and read horizontally, not down. Of course we see English because the audience needs to see English, but this is a bit hard to reconcile. Perhaps they just bought the 3-D city simulation from some Asian graphics company and forgot to edit out the signs when they added the Colonial Heavy luxury ships etc.?

Towards better pseudonym posting on message boards - casual commenting.

As you may know, I allow anonymous comments on this blog. Generally, when a blog is small, you don’t want to do too much to discourage participation. Making people sign up for an account (particularly with email verification) is too much of a barrier when your comment volume is small. You can’t allow raw posting these days because of spammers — you need some sort of captcha or other proof-of-humanity — but in most cases moderate readership sites can allow fairly easy participation.

Once a site gets very popular, it probably wants to move to authenticated user posting only. In this case, once the comment forums are getting noisy, you want to raise the bar and discourage participation by people who are not serious. My sub blog on Battlestar Galactica has gotten quite popular of late, and is attracting 100 or more comments per post, even though it has only 1/10th the subscribers of the main blog. Almost all post using the anonymous mechanism which lets them fill in a name, but does nothing to verify it. Many still post under the default name of “Anonymous.”

Some sites let you login using external IDs, such as OpenID, or accounts at Google or Yahoo. On this site, you can log in using any ID from the drupal network, in theory.

However, drupal (which is the software running this site) and most other comment/board systems are not very good at providing an intermediate state, which I will call “casual comments.” Here’s what I would like to see:

  • Unauthenticated posters may fill in parameters as they can now (like name, email, URL) and check a box to be remembered. They would get a long-term cookie set. The first post would indicate the user was new.
  • Any future posts from that browser would use that remembered ID. In fact, they would need to delete the cookie or ask the site to do so in order to change the parameters.
  • If they use the cookie, they could do things like edit their postings and several of the things that registered users can do.
  • If they don’t pick a name, a random pseudonym would be assigned. The pseudonym would never be re-used.
  • Even people who don’t ask to be remembered would get a random pseudonym. Again, such pseudonyms would not be re-used by other posters or registered users. They might get a new one every time they post. Possibly it could be tied to their IP, though not necessarily traceable back to it, but of course IPs change at many ISPs.
  • If they lose the cookie (or move to another computer) they can’t post under that name, and must create a new one. If they want to post under the same name from many machines, create an account.
  • The casual commenters don’t need to do more special things like create new threads, and can be quite limited in other ways.

In essence, a mini-account with no authorization or verification. These pseudonyms would be marked as unverified in postings. A posting count might be displayed. A mechanism should also exist to convert the pseudonym to a real account you can login from. Indeed, for many sites the day will come when they want to turn off casual commenting if it is getting abused, and thus many casual commenters will want to convert their cookies into accounts.

The main goal would be to remove confusion over who is posting in anonymous postings, and to stop impersonation, or accusations of impersonation, among casual posters.

I don’t think it should be too hard to make a module for drupal to modify the comment system like this if I knew drupal better.

Daybreak, Part One

I must admit I am a sucker for flashback scenes like these. Seeing the characters who have been beaten down back in the civilized part of their lives, and a glimpse of the world that was. Though I have to feel that with so much to be resolved, these scenes could have been put in some slightly earlier episodes to paint the picture. All these flashback characters — the regulars except Eight, plus Sam — are about to reach dramatic fates, including death next week, and we’re being given some things to help understand their character. We’ve seen shots of flashback scenes for Saul and Ellen and more of Bill.

The Flashback of Baltar and Six has two meanings. We see Baltar as we expect him, though still caring for and resenting his father. And we seem to see Six being genuinely nice. But we forget, because it has been so long, that Six is doing this only to get into Baltar’s life. Her plan, back then, is to betray and kill Baltar Sr., Gaius, and everybody else we see in these scenes. So what have we learned about her?

The question of the Colony was resolved, not as I had predicted. For those interested in some newer screen caps and updates, these can be found in the Colony Geometry thread. It’s a giant space station, even bigger than we thought (even when we thought it was big.) Check out the screen capture to observe 3 tiny base ships in the image. One commenter suggests that it is no coincidence it is around a singularity. This is something which has the power to destroy it, in theory. That’s harder than it looks. First of all, naked singularities are now not believed to exist. But in any event, a singularity offers a giant gravity well. It actually requires quite a bit of effort to take something in high orbit and move it to lower orbit. You have to dump a lot of energy. If you are coming in from outside, you could fall right into the well, but once you are in orbit you have a lot of angular momentum.

I still like the virus plan, though we may not get it. I do expect there to be several fronts of attack, and I expect Cavil to be able to counter all but one of them, the one that finally gets him. They need to do many things — rescue Hera, defeat Cavil, liberate the Simons and Dorals from Cavil’s lies, and militarily attack the Colony and its supply of base ships. (I have to wonder, shouldn’t Simon and Doral be saying, “how the hell did we forget building this place?” Maybe Cavil has let them partly in on things.)

A flashback for Sam was surprising. After all, he’s not exactly at the level of the other characters, though of course he has become a plot device. This supports the idea that he will use his new control of Galactica to strike the military blow, using it. He will be the perfect weapon. Can we doubt that we will see him make the perfect shot, perhaps even the perfect catch?

I have no read on the symbolism of Lee and the bird. Any thoughts? This has to be symbolic. Lee’s roof is even the first shot of the episode on Caprica, though we don’t know it then.

Roslin’s fountain scene, at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, was well known to fans since students there took photos of it. Some had hoped it was a scene from their future home, but she’s not getting there. I do suspect she may get to look at it from space, Moses-like. It is curious that Roslin saw her mother in Faith while the defining tragedy in her life is about her father and sisters.

But with all that, surprisingly little on our mysteries, including the famous opera house. Kara’s work on the tune suggests it might well contain coordinates for the new home.

The Colony is certainly nowhere near real Earth. There’s no black hole very near us, let alone a naked singularity.

And I was really expecting Baltar to join the volunteers. Perhaps that would be too pat. But he needs to do something for his redemption soon. The string-puller, who gave the Colony coordinates to Sam to give to Adama, has big plans for Baltar still, and also wants the battle to happen.

How would I end it?

How will the two part final episode go down? There are many good possible predictions, but nobody on the outside truly knows.

But given the constraints that the ending is sad and dark, here’s how what I would want to see. Not what we necessarily will see.

  • The Final Five will die, in the course of saving humanity and uniting humanity and all the Cylons except probably Cavil. This is a classic rule of tragedy. They had good intentions, but spawned evil in spite of them, and so they will die making it right.
  • There is not enough time for the “string puller” to appear as an on-screen character, but…
  • The string puller will provide some expository explanation of things, speaking through head characters to everybody who has had a head character. She will announce who she really is. Baltar will see her has a Six. Six will see her as a Baltar. Roslin will see her as an Elosha. Starbuck will see her as a Leoben and/or her father. Adama will see her as the first Hybrid. The Final Five will see her in the form of the messengers they saw 2,000 years ago.
  • Most of it will be shown as a Six explaining things to Baltar, but interspersed will be clips of the same story being told to the others.
  • Baltar and Caprica Six will work together with the Final Five and create a computer virus which infects the ships of Cavil’s factions to disable them. In addition, this virus will remove the inhibitors from Cavil’s centurions. This will help redeem Baltar for his role in allowing such a virus to be inserted into colonial systems.
  • One of the Final Five, Sam, will pilot the Galactica against Cavil’s forces and crash it into them. This may play a role in planting the virus, which may be done by the others in the final Five.
  • When Ellen goes out on her suicide mission to recruit the Simons and Dorals, Bill says to Saul, “It’s too bad she won’t live. But then again, who does?” (Ok, not really.)
  • For added irony, the lobotomizing of the raiders should interfere with their ability to defend the Colony. (Though not too ironic as unlobotomized raiders would not attack the F5.)
  • Baltar lives because he needs to play a role in saving Hera and raising her to be the first of the joined generation.
  • Athena and Helo die. But before they do, they become convinced either by virtual beings, or by the Final Five, that it is god’s plan that Baltar and a Six raise Hera.
  • Boomer dies saving Hera from Cavil and getting her partway out.
  • The head-beings explain who the Lords of Kobol were, and what happened when the 13th tribe was expelled, and when the rest were expelled 2,000 years later. Their fate may be revealed.
  • The head being reveals that the Lords of Kobol were once humans on the ancient homeworld of humanity who developed A.I. and elevated themselves to godlike status. They took their Children with them and settled on Kobol after a man-machine war, and lived with a paradise among them. The String Puller herself was a woman on the ancient home. Her DNA, in archives has been re-used from time to time, most recently by the Final Five to make one of the 8 Cylons they made.
  • She reveals that even the humans are artificial, though much closer to original humanity than the Cylons. Starbuck had to die and be recreated to show them that even humans like her are children of God.
  • The Simons and Dorals, given the full scoop about their creation by the Final Five, rejoin with the rebels. Cavils are mostly killed by Centurions and fleet forces. All Cylons and humans are now united.
  • The String Puller reveals that this union was the goal of all the troubles and mysteries. She appears to Starbuck as her father and shows them the way to a new, blue planet. Roslin dies in orbit over the planet.
  • The fleet settles on the planet. It is the real Earth. On it are ancient ruins of the Pyramids, Mt. Rushmore, New York, all destroyed for many thousands of years, but the planet is inhabitable. The date is revealed. A.D. 8,000.
  • Baltar and Six will raise Hera, along with the combined and united Cylons, Centurions and humans, who vow to make more like her and end the Cycle.
  • Cut to a street in New York. A.D. 2009. We see a Six, but slightly different, in her red dress. She has just receieved her PhD in Artificial Intelligence. She’s out on the town, celebrating. She purchases a copy of Electric Ladyland by The Jimmy Hendrix Experience. She smiles.

(As noted, some of the things here are based on constraints and information that has leaked out. I would not do the final scene in New York that way, and I think making Baltar in charge of Hera doesn’t make a lot of sense but it’s been predicted so much, which means Helo and Athena have to die.)

Airlines should sell an empty middle seat for half price

Coach is cramped, but not everybody can afford business class. In addition, there are airlines that require fat people to purchase a second seat if they can’t fit into one. Fortunately I am not in that department, but it seems there is an interesting alternative that might make sense for all — selling half of a middle seat, for half price (or less) to somebody wanting more room in coach.

The idea, of course, is that two passengers want this extra room. So if sold at half-price, the airline effectively is selling that seat for full price. In fact, since they don’t have to provide any services for that missing passenger — nor carry the weight and luggage or offer miles — they could and should sell the guaranteed empty middle for less than half, perhaps as low as 1/3rd.

On the other hand, half the time there would be an odd number of passengers buying half a middle, which would cost the airline half a fare on half the flights. They might need to bump the cost slightly to account for this.

Of course, ideally these would be rows where the armrest is able to go up fully so it doesn’t stick into you even if you recline, though not all airlines do that.

Now there is a bit of gamesmanship to be played on flights that vary widely in load. After all, if a flight is not that loaded, the middle seats will be vacant anyway, and no revenue would be lost by offering the guaranteed empty seat. I can see two strategies for selling in these conditions:

  • The passenger pays full-bore (say 40% extra) for the seat. However, if the flight is light enough that many middles are empty, they pay nothing. The passenger always gets value for money and never feels they paid for what others got free.
  • The passenger pays a lower fraction, based on how often it’s truly needed. Say it’s needed only half the time. Pay 20% extra, and always get the empty middle, but no refund even on an empty plane. (Perhaps give “whole row” preference on really empty flights.)

Which would you prefer? Of course if you feel comfy in a full coach cabin, you would not desire either.

Passengers of course would be strategic, and look at the seat map to see how loaded the plane is, and buy the premium only if the flight is filling up. The airline may or may not wish to allow upgrading an existing ticket because of this.

This is also something that could be offered for miles instead of cash.

As you may know, many airlines already do this for their elite passengers, only filling the middle between two elites if the flight is completely full. Promotion to premium legroom sections (which United offers for cash) could be combined with this. A seat in United’s Economy Plus with an empty seat next to you gets much closer to Business Class in terms of space, though it still lacks other comforts.

Update: The question came up of full fights with sold empty middle seats. If a passenger has bought this because he can’t fit in a single seat, there are few options, unless the passenger they want to add is very small, like a child. However, if the passenger bought the seat simply for extra comfort, but still can fit, they could sell it back to the airline for whatever can be agreed on. The airline could offer cash, business class upgrades, or free half-seat upgrades on future flights, and many passengers might take it. After all, anybody who purchased such a half-seat is the sort who would find a business class upgrade valuable. This might be arranged in advance. For example, the fare rules might say, “The airline, at its discretion, can fill the empty middle seat with a passenger of below average size in exchange for compensation X.” A ticket where the seat can’t be filled, no way, no how, could cost more, but still a lot less than the option they offer today of purchasing an entire seat.

When I fly with my companion, of course, we usually book aisle and window with empty middle between us. If they seat somebody there, we let them have the window. There are tricks to try to otherwise get that empty middle.

Like premium economy, airlines could make money from selling these guaranteed middle seats to business travelers whose companies have a rule that they won’t pay for business class, but will pay for improved economy seating.

Some other options might include a focus on putting somebody as small as possible in the seat, such as an unaccompanied minor.

Some of this also touches on a different problem I will address in a future blog post. Airlines should, if they can, avoid seating two large people in the same pair or trio of seats. While I am sure I’ll get claims of “the fatties deserve this for not curbing their appetites” it’s a hard problem to solve, since everybody, thin or wide, would want to get tagged as wide to avoid having a crowded row. More on this later.

The geometry of the Colony

Note: Most of this article was written before Daybreak, and new information outdates it. See updates

Cavil’s Cylon base, which Boomer flies to, is the “Colony” which was the place the final five’s gear was stored. It was moved by Cavil several months ago from the location Ellen had for it.

Comments in a prior thread got a bit too heated, and have been moved to this new thread, but it is worth exploring various interpretations of what we see as Boomer comes to the Colony.

I have uploaded an HD clip (x264) of the very brief scene of the colony and its surroundings. You can download it here.

The shot, all computer antimated of course, has the virtual camera move, and first turning and then later zooming into the portal as Boomer jumps in and flies through the tunnel. The image consists of 4 rough regions:

  1. The organic, hollow rocky structure into which Boomer flies, that is in the foreground. (The Portal)
  2. The fuzzy purple zones in the lower part of the picture.
  3. A large, thin, irregular horizontal rocky structure, which goes from edge to edge, lower on the right, behind the Portal. 5 giant Cylon spires are mounted on top of it, or possibly between it and the Portal. Two other sets of giant spires appear above this mass on the left and right.
  4. The purple “sky” zone at the top, which is diffuse but contains blurred-out points, possibly stars.

A Cylon base ship is flying on the right side of the Portal. This ship could easily fit into the tunnel showing just how immense all of this is, and the spires are truly immense.

A few interpretations of this image have arise. Watching the video, particularly in show motion, shows that there is considerable depth to the image. The Portal is sharp and in focus, the rest is more blurred. Due to depth and perspective, the Portal is clearly well in front of both the spires and the horizontal structure. Both are well in front of the upper purple background (sky.) Curiously, the lower purple background moves differently from the upper, suggesting it is between the Portal and the horizontal structure.

Whatever the interpretation, however, the main thing to consider is that this base is huge. Much too large to destroy by crashing a Battlestar into it, or even firing a few nukes. There is thus some question about whether this whole thing is the Colony (in which case it was rather immense) or whether the Colony is just a part of it that has recently been moved in, and so this is the Cylon home.

Interpretation One: Giant space base

In this interpretation, we are in space, and the background is glowing purple nebulousity. The horizontal structure is of unclear purpose. The light area on the bottom of the structure is in fact its flat bottom.

Arguments in favour:

  • If one of these large structures is the Colony ship, it would not make sense to land it on a planet. These things are all huge.
  • After Boomer enters the portal, the view back shows objects floating in the purple background, which may be rocks or ships. While no floating rocks are visible in the scene from outside, if they are floating this is not on a planet.
  • The lower purple section is similar to the upper one. If it is a reflection, there is no reflection of the hills and shore.

Interpretation One-A: Spar-based space base

One commenter suggests that what we are seing is a 5 sided “starfish” of rock with Cylon spire complexes on each leg of the star. The Portal is the entrance to one of the legs. The commenter has a diagram here.

It is also possible to consider that there are only 4 spars, or 3, to this structure.

  • On the right and left spars, the spires are not in the center. If it is symmetrical, then the Portal’s spires are also somewhere between the Portal and the center.
  • Once inside, there seem to be tunnels from elsewhere, but no other opening is shown in the Portal. However, the tunnel she enters is rather short, far too short to reach the center of such a vast structure, and the other tunnels seem to be parallel to it, not radiating in all directions.

Interpretation Two: This sits on a planet (Upate: Invalidated by Daybreak)

In this interpretation, the horizontal structure is hills. The light area underneath it is the shore of a still or frozen sea. The lower purple area is the reflection of the sky above. The purple sky is a local nebula, or perhaps an aurora. (In reality, no nebula would be this bright, but BSG normally shows them this way.)

Here is a frame capture diagramming this interpretation. Note the image is 1920x1080. Expand your browser window (the picture grows with it) or click on it to see it fully. It has been enhanced and sharpened.

  • The lower purple region moves in perspective as though it is between the Portal and the hills. If it were space below the horizontal structure, it would spin in perfect sync with it.
  • The lower purple region is much more diffuse, and looks quite different from the upper one.
  • The horizontal structure looks natural and eroded, not artificial or space-formed. It appears to even have trees. It looks nothing like the Portal structure which is Cylon organic-artifice, and is that way all the way through.
  • If the horizontal structure is in space, and we’re seeing it’s flat underside, we are underneath it, which does not make sense in the starfish layout, unless it curves in unusual ways.


For full understanding, watch the video in a player that will late you do slow-motion or frame advance. The rocks point to a space interpretation. The way the lower purple section (particularly on the right) moves differently from the upper sky section strongly points to a planetary interpretation. (This can also be confirmed by taking two frames from before and after the virtual camera move, rotating and adjusting them so the Portal structure matches, and then subtracting. When you do this, the lower purple region turns mostly black, while the sky region shows lots of movement.) As such no interpretation is certain, but I am leaning towards the planetary one.

This is too large a structure for the fleet to take on militarily. They may never do so. One interesting, and highly ironic way for them to defeat it, would be for Caprica Six to generate a computer virus which infects Cavil’s systems, and puts them under her control or disables them. An interesting variant would be for that virus to disable the inhibitors on the Centurions, so they would be freed to defeat Cavil, and even kill all the Cavils. You could add to the irony if Baltar assisted her, and this would also provide some redemption for Baltar. Then the Simons and Dorals could join the other Cylons as predicted in the prophecy.

Folks, I must repeat the rules for this blog, as the other thread got surprisingly bitter on the part of some posters. Write about the topic at hand, not about the people you are discussing with. Posts that contain insults rather than (or even in addition to) useful contributions will be deleted. Do not respond to those posts, because when they are deleted, the entire comment tree beneath them is also deleted. Keep it civil. Do not write about the competence, skills, intelligence or ancestry of other members. Instead, keep to the topic at hand, which is the show. If you expect people to respond to you please enter a name other than “Anonymous.” Consider creating a userid on the blog, which will assure nobody else can post with your name. (Non-user names are marked “not verified.”)

Another question: Who are the “playmates” that Cavil wants Hera to meet? Even without resurrection, is it possible he has duplication equipment, so he can generate a whole bunch of Hera models and copy her mind into them? That seems like it would be very similar to the resurrection equipment but who knows? Or are the playmates just Simons and Dorals and the like?

Update: Daybreak reveals that it in space, near a black hole, so the on-planet interpretation I was favouring was incorrect. One jump away with the new drives. The configuration, which is shown here, is somewhat like the proposed starfish but quite a bit different. In fact, it’s hard to actually reconcile the two pictures easily, I would be interested in arrangements which can. Now the colony is completely surrounded by floating debris, where before it showed only a bit of debris looking back. And the background is bright green, not purple. It has 9-10 legs, not 3 to 5, What appears to be the underside in the new picture doesn’t look much like the apparent underside of the old. The Cylon spires are in the center, but we don’t see the ones at the edges.

For scale, check out the tiny base ships visible between the two legs on the right! And another one in the lower section. Sharper than the background spires, so not in the distant background.

Endings for the characters

We’ve had lots of debate about the big stuff coming in the ending, such as whether they come to a new planet, and whether it’s real Earth in the future or in the past. While I’ve written plenty on that, and will write more later, today let’s consider the endings that must come for the characters. They don’t have a lot of time to do it all in.

The general ending was painted out by the first Hybrid like this:

At last, they’ve come for me. I feel their lives, their destinies spilling out before me. The denial of the one true path, played out on a world not their own, will end soon enough. Soon there will be four, glorious in awakening, struggling with the knowledge of their true selves. The pain of revelation bringing new clarity and in the midst of confusion, he will find her. Enemies brought together by impossible longing. Enemies now joined as one. The way forward at once unthinkable, yet inevitable. And the fifth, still in shadow, will claw toward the light, hungering for redemption that will only come in the howl of terrible suffering. I can see them all. The seven, now six, self-described machines who believe themselves without sin. But in time, it is sin that will consume them. They will know enmity, bitterness, the wrenching agony of the one splintering into many. And then, they will join at the promised land, gathered on the wings of an angel. Not an end, but a beginning.


The one I’m most concerned for is Baltar. Baltar was the star of the show in the first two seasons, certainly if combined with head six. But he’s really faded in season 4. There have been episodes where he has not even appeared, and where he has, it’s been as this insincere cult leader half unsure if his religious conversion is fake.

Baltar begins terrified of the others finding out he let Six into the network. But you can’t really blame him for that, who would suspect that she was a Cylon? His real sins come in the coverup and the way he lets head six manipulate him. As he falls down, it always seemed that at some point he would get a chance at redemption. Sure, Roslin forgave him for the thing that wasn’t truly his fault. So now, in the ending, he should find real redemption or alternately death. Death would not be that satisfying at this point. The guns he collected 2 weeks ago make it look like a violent confrontation is coming. But I still want a proper ending for Baltar, because of the older Season 1-2 Baltar.


She’s been dying for 2 seasons. No shortage of coverage for her fate. Instead it will be part of one of the remaining big reveals “the truth of the opera house.”

Sam and Galactica

I now think Sam’s fate is tied not to Kara or the Five, but to Galactica. Hera projected a scene of her playing with models in the CIC, crashing Galactica into a few base ships. But who will be at the helm? I suspect Sam, not Adama. Adama has said goodbye to the ship, is ready to give it a sendoff, using it as a weapon. All this Cylon organic goop plot has to end somewhere, and this is where, I suspect.


Bill’s the most admirable human on the show (in spite of his mutinies, insurrections and more) and while he might well survive, I think his story is pretty much already over when he leaves Galactica. Somebody else will lead the fleet by the end of the show, even if Bill’s still alive.


Frankly, I don’t care much about Lee now. He’s never made sense in this political role. Even before, he just wasn’t a character I cared about the fate of. Too pompous in his way.


So her finale is another of the big finales — the revelation of her destiny. The sides all come together joined on the wings of an angel. She’s the new leader, perhaps. But how does her personal story end? Her husband dies, if I am right. I am not thrilled if that means she ends up with Lee. I hope to see more to her story than just the story of her destiny. “I’ve had it up to here with destiny,” as Bill says. Making your own destiny is more interesting.

Head Six

Head Six is, in a way, one of the most interesting characters. Sexy, smart, manipulative, and extremely mysterious. You had me at those xylophone notes. Is she just a mouthpiece for the one true god, or does she have her own mind? Or will she be the personification of the one true god, if the OTG actually enters the story as a speaking character?

Caprica Six

She’s become a plot device of late, her baby created and killed at writer’s whims. She is in the Opera House, so she plays a role, but about her, I don’t care a lot.

Boomer & Athena

Boomer also used to be interesting. She’s also been a plot device, until she cried giving over Hera. So expect both redemption and death for her. As for Athena, I never saw her as more than a different way to get Grace Park on screen. Her journey took place in Season 1-2 and has been uninteresting for some time. As mother of Hera, expect a plot finale for her, if not a personal one.


I think Saul is everybody’s favourite character now. He’s the real marriage of human and Cylon. If he gets his memory back, I hope he stays the same, with memories of his Cylon days but fully devoted to humanity, much more so than Athena. But Saul also said that the five are responsible for the genocide, and have to pay. That doesn’t bode well. Though I think it bodes less well for…


Aside from Sam, I suspect Ellen might be the other of the five to pay the price for how their efforts turned out. She hungers for redemption that will only come in the pain of terrible suffering, we’re told. But something else in me wonders if it isn’t death she’s due for. A lot of her millions of children will die in the battle that’s coming.


I expected Galen to be a leader of the reconciliation that’s coming between all Cylons and the humans. Yes, the Simons and Dorals at least will join with the Rebels, or so the first Hybrid predicted. Don’t know about the Cavils. While his strange willingness to leave the fleet still bothers me, he’s the member of the F5 that you can identify with. Boomer may betray Cavil for him before she dies.


Another character who I’ve ceased to care a lot about. His role will be father of Hera.


I don’t care. Probably death.

Other Cylons

Has Leoben just left the radar screen after deciding he was wrong about Starbuck? Cavil appears headed for death, but if they can pull a redemption for him it would be impressive. They now have no character more in need of it.


I have to say I don’t think the fourth season, as much as people say it’s been about character, has done well by the characters. I care about many of them much less than I did before. The new Baltar, the new Lee, bleh. The 5 who were revealed as Cylons became less interesting as characters when we learned their memories were all faked. Only Sam became more interesting because he has his real memories and has become a pathetic figure with his shooting.

But who knows, in 3 hours we might see some more to impress us. We have to get all these character stories, and resolve the big questions of the OTG, Starbuck, Galactica, Hera & the Opera House, the head characters and the fate of humanity at the promised land (possibly including real Earth.)

Other notes:

  • That jovian planet that Boomer passed mid-way looked a lot like Jupiter to many people, and in fact Orion is in the background (but it’s been everywhere.) For the true geek, however, the gas giant is bigger than Orion, filling 30 degrees of sky. Jupiter’s only that big when much closer to it than any of its spherical, cratered moons. I think the graphics dept. just wanted to paint a pretty picture.
  • In addition, the fleet also had Earth stars behind it, which means that several jumps later (Hera is undrugged and uncrated) they should not be present. And it’s 12 more jumps to the Colony from there. In reality, an interstellar course would have zero probability of getting close to a star system, let alone a planet. Space is really, really, really empty.
  • For some reason the Colony which is a movable ship, is on a frozen sea under a purple sky on some planet. Not sure why. There are two other Cylon base ship type structures behind the mountains too. This may be the Cylon homeworld.

Islanded in a Stream of Stars

This episode doesn’t inspire to many thoughts right away, but I need a comment thread. :-)

Some good dramatic moments of course. With only a single (3 hour, split into 2 parts) episode to go, some minor characters are getting their final scenes. It had not occurred to me that Baltar and Caprica Six had not seen one another since he was captured on the algae planet. Some emotion about others was a rare show for Baltar, but the old asshole Baltar made his way back to the surface quickly. I can’t say I’ve been pleased with Baltar’s 4th season arc. In fact, the main thing interesting about him now is the Six in his head, for her mystery is one of the big mysteries we’re about to see unfolded. It was good to see a strong contrast between head Six and Caprica Six, as many people have been under the mistaken impression that they are connected. But Baltar tells us that the Angels take the form of those close to you.

Strong intimations that Galactica will make a valiant last attack, possibly on the Cylon base. Cavil seems to have a highly operational and large facility there, and it was cool to get a glimpse of it, but it’s too much for the Galactica and crippled base ship to take on ordinarily — but this is the climax of a story. (One way that works would be to free the Centurions.)

Boomer’s tears remain a mystery. We now see that had Boomer had success at convincing Tyrol to “come with her” she would have had to chain him up or drug him for the long many-jump flight. A tall order as he has Cylon strength, too. But it seems a betrayal of Cavil (no doubt with Boomer’s death) is in order. There are so many characters who might be a suitable killer of Cavil, though, including of course the Centurions.

Is Galen hiding? He has reason to hide, but they didn’t use him at all this episode, in spite of having a few confabs of the other three. Of course he is to blame for the over 60 deaths and the destruction in Galactica. You would think he might be hiding out on the base ship. Update: He’s apparently in the brig, via deleted scene.

The quick abandonment of the switch for Hera seems odd, and of course false as they are surely going after her next week. In particular, that Cylon base looks like it’s a fairly permanent establishment, in which case, unlike the vacated Colony, the rebel Cylons know where it is, or at least some places to look. (Update: It apparently is the Colony, so we can’t be sure how they find it. Perhaps it comes to them.)

Simon and Doral

We have seen little of them, of course. But while they are on Cavil’s side, they are his dupes as well, unaware of the Final Five, sticking to the programming he gave them not to think of their makers.

But Ellen tells us that all these millions of Cylons are her children. Even John, but certainly Simon and Doral. Can she participate in an attack to kill them permanently. They are also the future of their race.

Hera though, isn’t the whole future of the race. She shows that breeding is possible, if difficult. And there’s no sign that Tory, Saul and Galen can’t have kids with humans (or other Cylons.) Even Anders could be a sperm donor to a human woman, I suspect. (The “love” theory is, according to Espenson, not really true.)


There’s lots of hope for the species without Hera, but the OTG (One true god/string-puller) is of course quite interested in her, so her story will be told in the finale.

But there does not seem to be time to tell a lot of other stories. I had hoped we might see more exploration of the Lords of Kobol, but if we do, it will be brief, and related to the OTG’s story.

The notes, it seems, are going to get another role. Will they turn into jump coordinates? A programming backdoor? A real star map (with colours) as Starbuck first thought they were?

Many leaks have shown this final episode (pair) will have a number of flashback scenes, closing out some personal mysteries but leaving less time for the larger plot mysteries.

A Real Earth or no?

Hope dwindles for a real Earth of any kind, past or future. It’s too big a thing to truly cover, so if it appears it will be as something short at the end, akin to the Taylor on the beach with the Statue of Liberty scene. Of course there are many rumours and a photo circulating relating to this. We’ll see what they mean. It was already pretty clear we would not return to the 13th colony Earth in the show (since they left an expensive guest star who we know does not reappear there) and that has to make you wonder. Fans will be rightly upset if that’s “all the Earth” they get in the show. But they might end up upset. Certainly Espenson’s comments about human origins being on Kobol suggests we will get no more. But Ron Moore’s comments about why he used All Along the Watchtower certainly declared a stronger connection.

The local star patterns that Michael Hall tracked so diligently look more and more like mistakes by the post-production department. They have shown up in the Ionian Nebula, and on long jumps away from it. That can’t be — there’s no Nova/Supernova remnant here, nor will there be in the foreseeable future, and besides, stars won’t remain the same after any sort of major jump.

One of the great flaws of the 1978 show was its complete ignorance of the geometry of space. This was one of the things that Moore really said he wanted to fix in his reimagining, and they generally did, up to season 4. It’s a shame that the post-production dept. many have just been casually inserting local stars without rhyme or reason — everywhere but on the 13th colony “Earth.”

Other questions

  • Will the others get their memories back? The hybrid tank might work. But this would rewrite their characters and there isn’t enough time for that.
  • What is the truth of the opera house?
  • Will Baltar get a satisfactory ending? What’s going to happen with all the guns he was given? Will it be meaningful that a Hybrid called him the chosen one?
  • What was the reason for the Ionian Nebula detour with power outage, Cylon awakening, Raider ID of Anders etc.? Why did the OTG drag them 13,000 light years away to do that?
  • Will we, in general, find a satisfying reason for the convoluted course they have taken? Other than, “to make the trip longer.”

On some of these, we may not know the truth. The main things we seem sure to learn about are Hera, the OTG and head beings, and Starbuck.

Will we give up our privacy for unspoiled milk?

I recently attended the eComm conference on new telephony. Two notes in presentations caught my attention, though they were mostly side notes. In one case, the presenter talked about the benefits of having RFID tags in everything.

“Your refrigerator,” he said, “could read the RFID and know if your milk was expired.” In the old days we just looked at the date or smelled it.

Another presenter described a project where, with consent, they tracked people wherever they went using their cell phones, and then correlated the data, to figure out what locations were hot night spots etc. In a commercialization of the project, he said the system could notice you were visiting car dealerships and send you an email offering a bargain on a car.

Now I won’t try to say I haven’t seen some interesting applications for location data. In fact, many years ago, I started this blog with an article about a useful location aware service of my own design.

But why is it that when people are asked to come up for applications for some of the most intrusive technologies, they often come up with such lame ones? Perhaps you may have concluded that your privacy is doomed, and these invasive technologies are coming, but if so, can we at least give up our privacy for something a bit more compelling than having to smell the milk?

I mean, RFIDs in everything (and thus the trackability of everything for good and ill) just so your fridge can be a touch smarter? So you can be marketed to better and thus, in theory, get slightly cheaper products — at least until all sides have the technology and the competitive advantage goes away.

Have we revealed all our data about ourselves and our friends to Facebook just so we can throw sheep?

I’m not saying that throwing sheep (or the other, more practical applications of Facebook) aren’t fun, but are they worth the risk? I don’t say cost because you don’t see the cost until long after, until there has been a personal invasion? What if Falun Gong’s members had all been on Facebook when the Chinese government decided it was time to round them up? Mark my words, there will, before too long, be some group that a government decides to round up, using a social networking tool to find them. What cool apps are worth that?

There are ways to do applications on private data that are not nearly as risky. My yellow button application only transmits your location when you take an action, and that transmission can use a pseudonym. The real function can take place in the phone, knowing where it is, and knowing where interesting locations are that it needs to no more about. In this case, the network only learns something about you during explicit actions. The dangerous ones are the ones that are on all the time, that track and record your whole sea of data to do something useful. It is your whole sea of data that is the most dangerous to you, because if untrained eyes look in a big sea of data with something already in mind, they will find it, whether it’s there or not. That’s not as true for specialized subsets.

Comments welcome, even Anonymous ones!

Linux distributions, focus on a 1gb flashdrive, not on a CD ISO

I’m looking at you Ubuntu.

For some time now, the standard form for distributing a free OS (ie. Linux, *BSD) has been as a CD-ROM or DVD ISO file. You burn it to a CD, and you can boot and install from that, and also use the disk as a live CD.

There are a variety of pages with instructions on how to convert such an ISO into a bootable flash drive, and scripts and programs for linux and even for windows — for those installing linux on a windows box.

And these are great and I used one to make a bootable Ubuntu stick on my last install. And wow! It’s such a much nicer, faster experience compared to using CD that it’s silly to use CD on any system that can boot from a USB drive, and that’s most modern systems. With a zero seek time, it is much nicer.

So I now advocate going the other way. Give me a flash image I can dd to my flash drive, and a tool to turn that into an ISO if I need an ISO.

This has a number of useful advantages:

  • I always want to try the live CD before installing, to make sure the hardware works in the new release. In fact, I even do that before upgrading most of the time.
  • Of course, you don’t have old obsolete CDs lying around.
  • Jumping to 1 gigabyte allows putting more on the distribution, including some important things that are missing these days, such as drivers and mdadm (the RAID control program.)
  • Because flash is a dynamic medium, the install can be set up so that the user can, after copying the base distro, add files to the flash drive, such as important drivers — whatever they choose. An automatic script could even examine a machine and pull down new stuff that’s needed.
  • You get a much faster and easier to use “rescue stick.”
  • It’s easier to carry around.
  • No need for an “alternate install” and perhaps easier as well to have the upgrader use the USB stick as a cache of packages during upgrades.
  • At this point these things are really cheap. People give them away. You could sell them. This technique would also work for general external USB drives, or even plain old internal hard drives temporarily connected to a new machine being built if boot from USB is not practical. Great and really fast for eSata.
  • Using filesystems designed not to wear out flash, the live stick can have a writable partition for /tmp, installed packages and modifications (with some security risk if you run untrusted code.)