Archive for the ‘scifi’ Category

Nitpicking Larry Niven's "$16,940.00"

Sunday, June 12th, 2005

In the story, Kelsey is a professional blackmailer. He asking Carson, a “client”, for extra payment of $16,940.00. The money is needed for paying Horatio. Horatio was another “client” of Kelsey until the statute of limitations for his crime kicked in. Now Horatio is trying to blackmail Kelsey to get back all money he paid him.

In the story, Kelsey and Carson find that there is a technical problem for Carson to prepare this amount of money and transfer it to Kelsey. So they decide that if Carson kills Horatio, this will solve the problem.

My nitpicking yielded an alternate end.

Carson contacts Horatio and promises him $20,000.00 if Horatio agrees to wait few more days for the money. Carson gets from Horatio a copy of his blackmail evidence. Carson uses it to blackmail Kelsey into ceasing to get money from him. This way, Carson gets off the hook, Horatio gets back his blackmail money, and Kelsey is a bit poorer.

About opposition to the disengagement plan

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

Full disclosure: I am in favor of disengagement and movement of Jews from Gaza Strip to various areas in Israel.

Today I read in the newspaper about an ingenious public relations trick of the disengagement opponents. They sent to residents in north Tel Aviv an official-looking letter telling them that they must leave their homes and move elsewhere because it is planned to build underground train in place of their homes.

They reasoned that this would cause the recipients to feel the pain of being forced to move elsewhere.

The official response to the trick was angry one, but I think that this time the disengagement opponents did the right thing. They made a point, and their point had better been taken into consideration when arguing about the disengagement plan. Except for faster heartbeats, they did not interfere with the daily routine of the letter recipients. They made proper use of their Freedom of Expression.

They can make even better point, if they display their slogans (in quiet and non-interfering way) near cinemas which show the movie “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy”.

Star Wars - Revenge of the Sith

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

I saw the movie. The rapid transformation, which Anakin Skywalker went through from being a Jedi into a servant of the dark side of the Force, caused me to feel the unsettling feeling of someone thrown into a new situation in life, which he was not prepared to handle.

There are some moral issues illustrated by the movie, but since they are spoilers, I am discussing them in attached notes.

A Loophole in Niven's Law (written few hours before The Time Traveler Convention)

Saturday, May 7th, 2005

Niven’s Law says that if it is physically possible to build time machines and change the past using them, then a stable world is one, in which no time machine has ever been built and operated. This is so because if some inventor built a time machine at a certain time, then in the future, there will always be a time traveler, who changes history so as to prevent the builder from building his time machine.

This assumes that a single brilliant inventor invents a time machine. A single person can be blocked. This is a single point of failure.

However, what if the world has technologically advanced to such a state that there are millions of people, who have the know-how and materials, so it takes only a small leap for them to build a time machine?

My thesis is that such a case represents a loophole in Niven’s Law.

This is so because it is as possible to block development of a time machine as preventing superheated water from eventually boiling, or supersaturated salt solution from eventually crystallizing all excess salt. Water needs to be cooled or the salt solution needs to be diluted. In the case of human technology, this means setting the technology back - shutting down the Internet, having a large natural disaster, etc.

Otherwise, no single time traveler from the future will be able to block all people, who are capable of building time machines. There would be no single point of failure, such that acting on it would prevent the world from having a time machine altogether.

A very cool idea

Friday, May 6th, 2005

The Time Traveler Convention

New definition of a civilized planet

Monday, November 8th, 2004

During the early days of the atom era, several Sci-Fi authors wrote stories under the assumption that the Galactic Federation defines a civilized planet as a planet, whose lifeforms have been successful in using atomic energy.

A day ago I browsed a book about Life in a bookshop (sorry but its name escaped my memory). According to the book, it seems that life on a planet starts surprisingly short time after the conditions on it have been stabilized. However, if a planet is being continuously bombarded by asteroids and comets, all life is destroyed and needs to restart evolution from the beginning.

Apparently, this was the condition on Earth until 3.8 billion years ago. Only then, the time between consecutive catastrophic asteroid collisions began to be low enough for life to make significant progress in evolution.

This leads to the observation that a truly civilized lifeform on a planet is a lifeform, which can actively defend itself against asteroids and comets on collision course with its home planet.

Speculative consequences:

  1. Humans were created by bacteria (the really dominant lifeform on the planet, according to the book), with the goal of developing technology to defend the bacteria against asteroids and comets.
  2. Once humans demonstrate the ability to defend Earth from killer asteroids, they become eligible for membership in the Galactic Federation. Not once they explode the first atom bomb
  3. Planets with rings may be harboring sentient life. The rings may have been result of destruction of killer asteroids. In the solar system, there are rings around Saturn and Neptune. Is there sentient life on Titan?
  4. The rate of knowledge accumulation is higher in mammals than in other animals such as dinosaurs. This is because when a child is not attached to its parent for long time, the child learns slowly from the environment and does not pass its knowledge on to the next generations. So the evolution depends only upon DNA. Once mammals came into existence, parents started imparting knowledge to their offspring together with the milk. So the rate of knowledge accumulation became independent of DNA mutation rate. Humans made the transition to the next stage by developing the technologies of writing and computers. This stage apparently is what is required to develop effective defenses against killer asteroids.

Misfits and Revolutionaries in Utopia

Saturday, June 5th, 2004

When designing an Utopia, one needs to consider also how people who do not fit in are treated in the Utopia.

One way in which someone may fail to fit in is by being unsuccessful when trying to play by the Utopia’s rules.

In capitalistic regimes, unsuccessful people are poor, hungry, have poor health and bad (or nonexistent) housing. They then have a good reason to try to overthrow the present regime, in the belief that in a better regime they will have higher quality of life.

Another kind of unsuccessful people are those, who do not have the patience and long attention span to build their wealth slowly and on solid base. Such people indulge in various get-rich-quick schemes. They typically become real estate and insurance agents. They start the classical makework businesses. They do not consider the benefit to society when planning their business, only how it can funnel money into their pockets. Such people are behind business scams and Enrons.

A third kind of people are ones, who are better at organizing (i.e. influencing) people than in creating something. They become salespeople and politicians. They are the ones, who might believe that their personal success would come from organizing poor people to overthrow the present regime.

The real test of an Utopia is in how it deals with all those kinds of people and how can they find their opportunities in it without harming other people.

At any case, there will always be some people, who feel very dissatisfied with the Utopian regime, and who would try to overthrow it, or at least get it to change. Such people are necessary for the future evolution of the Utopia and for updating its workings according to the changed times. Those people would be good at pointing out abuses of the establishment and at getting it to change before it is overthrown.

Notes to myself about the design of an utopia Sci-Fi story

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

To illustrate my ideas about designing a better make-work economy, I wish to write a Sci-Fi story. There have been several stories which illustrate perfect (in their authors’ opinion) utopias, starting from the original book by Thomas More (circa 1516) through books such as The New Atlantis (1627) by Francis Bacon, Altneuland (1902) by Theodor Herzl, and Atlas Shrugged (1957) by Ayn Rand.

There are several ways to depict an utopia in Sci-Fi literature:

  1. The protagonist tours the utopia. Some of the natives escort him and show him things and lecture at him and teach him the ideology.
  2. The protagonist believes that the utopia is an enemy. He enters the utopia with warlike intentions. Most of the story describes the conflict, during which he learns more and more about the enemy. The story resolves when he learns the virtues of the utopia and becomes a convert.
  3. The protagonist fights the utopia as before, but is defeated. Through an account of the war, we learn about the utopia’s modus operandi.
  4. The protagonist is a confused youth, who has discovered that something is horribly wrong with the world. The plot is driven by his conflict against the Establishment. The conflict is eventually resolved when he learns the true nature of the utopia and of his parents or mentors.
  5. The protagonist has some mental illness, which prevents him from coping with the utopia. He is locked up in an institution, and knows nothing about the world. He escapes the institution and tries to survive in the world. He fails and is returned to the institution.
  6. The protagonist is a revolutionary, who has caused a major change in the country’s regime to occur. He shares with the story’s readers a vision of the utopia toward which he is leading his country.

One way, which I do not remember reading in the Sci-Fi literature is as follows.

The country reached the utopia through process of evolution, making mistakes and learning from them. The story’s plot consists of the tale of such a mistake, and how the utopia coped with it and evolved further.

Do you have a time machine on your desk?

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004

If we define time machine as an apparatus, which can transfer information from a possible future to the past - does a PC, which is sufficiently powerful to run simulations (i.e. has at least 4K memory), meet this definition?

Consider the following.

You want to know what will a potential future be, if you choose a certain course of action. This information will allow you to decide if to follow this course of action or a different course of action.

You develop (or pay someone else to develop) a program which simulates the future to the level of detail which you need. You run the program on your PC and analyze the simulation results. Finally you decide if you want this future or some other future.

However, simulating the future is philosophically equivalent to having a look at the future. Of course, you’ll not see everything in the future. But a time machine would not transfer from the future to the past every detail about the future world. Both PC and time machine will tell you as much as you need to know about the future. Sometimes less than you need, due to fog (time machine) or numerical difficulties due to chaotic regions in the simulation (PC).

Interaction between evolution and time machines

Tuesday, May 4th, 2004

Several years ago I speculated about interplay between evolution and time machines. What happens in a world in which both evolution and time machines play significant roles?

So far, the only piece I saw which attempts to address this issue, is the one which I wrote at

פעולת גומלין בין אבולוציה ומכונות זמן
לפני שנים רבות העליתי השערות על פעולת הגומלין בין אבולוציה ומכונות זמן. מה קורה בעולם, שבהתפתחותו לקחו חלק נכבד גם אבולוציה וגם מכונות זמן?
עד כה, המקום היחידי שראיתי, ושמנסה להתמודד עם הנושא, הוא שבו כתבתי ב: