Unconference notes

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

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

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

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

What is the moment of sin in drunk driving?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood on the Scales

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robocars bringing you flying cars

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

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

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

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

The real Earth stars

Michael Hall has been doing a lot of research on the appearance in the show of real Earth starfields. Here, I write an update to my earlier post.

Unfortunately, the results are a little too good. The sky above Earth is unique. You won’t find it anywhere else in the Galaxy. The sky at Alpha Centauri is of course the most similar, but it has a number of striking differences, changing several Zodiacal constellations, and adding an extra very bright star (our Sun) to turn Cassiopeia from a “W” to a “/W”

Hall’s efforts show the exact Earth sky appearing in several places:

  • The site of the Cylon civil war, making that planet be Jupiter. (This is also the site of Starbuck’s vision of where Earth is.)
  • Also the location of the Demetrius, where it is met by Leoben’s heavy raider, fleeing that war
  • Also the site of the rendezvous point between the fleet and the Demetrius
  • The spot where Adama waits for Roslin and the base star that attacked the Hub to return
  • The spot where the Tylium ship retreats to after they refuse to have Cylons upgrade their jump drive

In several of these scenes, we are given very obvious Earth star patterns. That is to say, we see the “big 3” of constellations that even non-astronomers readily recognize. The Big Dipper, the W of Cassiopeia, and Orion.

But more telling is we don’t see the Earth sky anywhere else. In particular, not above the ruined home of the 13th colony, which they named Earth. And not in any other places along the way including early episodes. Hall used a really cool new star map detection system which will take any photo of stars and tell you where it is in our sky, or if it isn’t in our sky at all.

On the one hand, if they producers know enough not to use the Earth sky for years, and suddenly they start using it, and even using it (showing Orion and Big Dipper) in a way that fans will be sure to notice, that doesn’t seem like an accident. It’s too odd to think that the graphics department, after carefully not using our sky, would just use it willy-nilly, and more to the point would not use it at the planet the 13th tribe named “Earth.”

On the other hand, they are using it in too many places. To see the Earth sky, notably things like the shield of Orion, you have to be within a short distance of Earth. Perhaps just a light year or more. But there’s nothing else around us in this zone. We’re it. In fact, except for Alpha Centauri and 3 other minor stars, there’s nothing around for 8 light years.

So this bugs me. On the one hand, the use of our sky is too strong to be an accident. On the other hand, now we are to believe that:

  • The Demetrius sat for days a short distance from Earth, scoped it out, and didn’t see it, even though they are hunting for a system with a ringed gas giant, and a life bearing planet with a large moon.
  • In fact, while there Starbuck discusses how they have already sent out 2 recon missions in the area, and not found anything, so she demands a third.
  • The whole fleet sat for weeks or more a short distance from Earth, and never noticed it.
  • Starbuck just “happened” to pick a rendezvous point to meet up with the fleet that is our solar system.
  • In spite of Adama ordering the fleet to go to G type stars to look for homes, when the Tylium ship comes to Sol, they don’t bother to scope it out. (I guess if they have already been her for weeks and not seen anything that could make some sense.)
  • Cavil just happens to pick Jupiter as the site of his ambush.
  • All of this isn’t too far from the Ionian Nebula supernova remnant. (The closest supernova remnant is Vela, about 800 light years away.)

In particular, when Cavil sets his ambush, he tells the others they will unbox D’Anna, and the closest place to do it is the nearest “accessible server” which is “half a dozen jumps away.” Now 6 Cylon jumps is pretty far, probably as much as 2,000 light years. It is possible he sprang the ambush at one of the intermediate points along the way, but there is no reason Jupiter would just happen to be one of the points along the way.

This adds another confusing point. First of all, how could Cavil “just happen” to pick Jupiter/Earth for the site of his ambush, of all the zillions of stars out there. Secondly, what does it mean that there is an accessible server in the Cylon resurrection network at Jupiter? This would mean the Cylons are no strangers to this region, in which case they would surely notice Earth too. After all, they are also looking for it.

And Earth should stick out. Our giant moon is a dead giveaway; we believe that to be rather unusual. And the spectrum of light from our planet, which includes lots of water and free oxygen, would be a beacon to anybody examining it with space telescopes even from light years away. Free oxygen, it is commonly accepted, is not something you will find unless something (life) is making it, because it is used up quickly in reactions. And real Earth, seen at the end of season 3, is a living planet, with free Oxygen, not a cinder.

So thus the dilemma. The use of the constellations seems deliberate. The Cylon battle site has to be Jupiter, it can be nowhere else. And yet the fleet, Demetrius, Cylon network builders and others have all hung around this system for long periods, and not noticed anything.

So of course one interpretation is a huge writing mistake, and a huge mistake in the graphics department in suddenly deciding after 4 years to start throwing the Earth sky in so many places with the notable exception of the 13th colony. Or perhaps the writers don’t realize just how readily they would see Earth if they hung around these areas with nice space telescopes, as they must have to do the stellar navigation they do.

This wouldn’t be the first production mistake like this. In the episode Torn, Gaeta pulls out a star map he supposedly got from Pegasus. But it’s an Earth star map, complete with Earth names on constellations and modern Earth catalog numbers on the stars. This map makes no sense, and strikes me as a lazy production mistake. We only see it upside-down.

But let’s dig for an alternate explanation. We’re told of a long, repeating history of war and exodus. This must have happened on real Earth as well. The Kobolians fled, or were kicked out. Perhaps they have programming relating to Earth, to block their return to it. Just as Starbuck got compulsions to find Earth (and visions of the real Jupiter) there may be other compulsions not to find it. There may be forces out there that want them to find real Earth, and others that want them not to.

This explains the 13th tribe heading in this direction, and finding a different planet quite nearby and naming it Earth. It might explain Athena being sent on a recon to Earth from the Demetrius and reporting no joy — 3 times. It might explain the presence of a Cylon network node there, but without Cylon conscious awareness of what the location is. We know at least that the 7 Cylons (including Athena) have compulsions programmed into their brains either by, or relating to the Final Five. And we know the Final Five have their own compulsions programmed into their brains, too.

But there is also the question of Cavil. He is Cylon model #1. Is he special? He seems to know things, without letting on. He makes deadpan pronouncements of major consequences if D’Anna sees the Five, or if inhibitors are removed from Centurions. And he somehow picks Jupiter as the site for his ambush, an impossible coincidence.

So something isn’t adding up. Is it a strange mistake. Or a hint of a major mystery?

The Supernova

Another thing that’s not adding up is the Ionian Nebula. This is a supernova remnant — it has to be, because nobody will immediately pull from their minds a plain old nova seen 4,000 years ago. But it must be close to both the 13th colony and real Earth. When they get there, Roslin starts jumping the fleet along the course they went, and Starbuck goes crazy, saying it’s the wrong way. So real Earth is a bit of a backtrack (or at least sideways track) from that remnant.

There are only a few supernova remnants close to us. One of the closest is the Vela nebula, which new research puts only 800 light years away. It exploded, it is suggested, around 11,000 years ago. (I am unsure if that is the date of explosion or the date of light arrival on Earth.) Since the Ionian supernova is dated to 17,000 years ago as seen from the colonies, that fits well with a chronology placing this story 5,000 years in our future.

The Ionian/Vela supernova would have been a big event in Kobol/Algae Planet society, because they would have known in advance it was going to happen. They would have jumped beyond its light cone, meaning that when they got to their new planet, they would know the supernova wave was following them, and could have put out lawn chairs to watch it explode. The legends persist so much that Gaeta still knows about it.

But 800 light years is still a long distance for Starbuck to trek on her exploration, and for the fleet to follow. We are told colonial jumps are in the range of 30 light years before they hit their red-line, so that’s over 25 jumps. However, it does not match very well with being 6 Cylon jumps, as Cylon jumps are supposed to be able to go 10 times further. (Though to contradict that, Cylon upgrades to fleet drives will only give them a 3x improvement. And we don’t know where the Cylons start.)

Hall makes the case that in fact they did a giant backtrack. He thinks they trekked 13,000 light years out to the edge of the galaxy to find the Ionian nebula, and Starbuck and the fleet independently came back that distance or more to get to Earth. I don’t think that’s credible for a lot of reasons. One is that I can’t see a waste processing ship designed for a small set of close colonies ever having the fuel capacity to do that. Nor could they pick a rendezvous point 13,000 light years away so accurately that the Cylon ship and Demetrius jump right into the middle of the fleet.

The Journey

We must also step back and realize that the journey here is probably not a straight line. If the forces guiding them to these planets wanted to, they could have just said, “Here are the coordinates for Earth.” Instead we get a very, very convoluted trek. I hope we see a reason for this trek.

  1. Head out randomly into space. Somehow find Kobol
  2. On Kobol, find a star map that tells you to head in the direction of M8, the Lagoon Nebula.
  3. Along the way find a probe, and a possible lion’s head nebula
  4. Be diverted for 18 months on a hidden planet called New Caprica
  5. Be diverted back to an Algae planet. There, the chosen one is supposed to be in the activated temple, but it doesn’t seem to happen. However, see a symbol that tells you to go in the direction of the Ionian supernova remnant.
  6. Along the way, refuel at a planet where Starbuck is taken in an unknown fashion.
  7. Reach the Ionian nebula. Suffer a power failure. Awaken the final five, just slightly. Return a Starbuck, in a brand new viper. Starbuck has compulsions that point her towards Earth. She finds it but doesn’t see it. Raiders encountered freshly awakened final five, and break off, triggering Cylon internal conflict.
  8. Cylons have civil war, near Earth.
  9. Have the final five realize the viper is special. The viper has a locater pointing at the 13th colony.
  10. On the 13th colony, give the final five more memories, but learn no new clues for true Earth.

This journey does not have to be a straight line, but I hope we see a reason why this is the journey that makes sense. Something to explain why not just get coordinates. A reason why this journey brings about other events like the alliance with the Cylons, or their war. Events either to repeat the cycle, or to break it.

Going paperless by making manuals easier to find

As I move to get more paper out of my life, one thing I’m throwing away with more confidence is manuals. It’s pretty frequent that I can do a search for product model numbers or other things on a manual, and find a place to download the PDF. Then I can toss the manual. I need to download the PDF, because the company might die and their web site might go away.

I would like to make this even easier. For starters, it would be nice if the UPC database (UPC are the bar codes found on all retail products) would also offer a link to getting all manuals and paper that come with a product. I would then be able to just photograph the bar codes of all my products with my phone or camera, and cause automatic download or escrow of all manuals. Perhaps a symbol next to the UPC could tell me this is guaranteed to work.

It would be even better if companies escrowed the manuals, which is to say paid a one-time fee to a trustable company which would promise to keep the documents online forever. This company must be backed by a very solid company itself, perhaps a consortium of all the major vendors with a pact that if any of them go other, the rest take up the slack of maintaining the site.

In fact, all free, public documents should have a code on them that can be turned into a URL where I can fetch the document, as PDF, HTML or even MSWord. Any attempt to scan such a document would pick up this code and know it doesn’t have to scan the rest unless it is marked up. For books, we sould key off the ISBN as well as the UPC. Eventually one of the newer, compact 2-D “barcodes” could be used to code a number to find the docs.

Of course, many products are now coming without manuals at all, and that’s largely fine with me.

Saul and the hand grenade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indoor deliverbots on the rise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Massive panorama of the inauguration

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

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

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

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

The Kitchen of the Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Earth or Two -- more data, more astronomy

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

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

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

A number of things keep nagging at viewers:

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

Only four of the photos match?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can there be such a mismatch?

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

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

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

The Cylon battle site

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

All Along the Watchtower

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

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

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

What is Earth like?

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

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

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

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

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

Iniating calls with a VoIP tool, like Skype

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cylon Film Festival

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

In the next set of 3 lines, I see

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

Also look at another part of the poster:

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

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

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

Must read, but disappointing interview with Moore and others

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

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

To wit:

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

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

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

I can think of some convoluted explanations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The bones are all Cylon? Or are they?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battlestar Galactica sub-blog returns to activity

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

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

Some recent posts of note:

Data hosting could let me make Facebook faster

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the questions you must answer in your Galactica theory

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

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

Virtual Beings

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

13th Colony “Earth”

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

Final Five

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

Cylon God

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

Temple of Five

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

Cycle of Time

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


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


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


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


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

The Seven

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


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

Web site clues

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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