Showing posts from December, 2012

What is reductionism

A friend sent me links to the Robert Sapolski lectures on biology and behavior, specifically the lecture about Chaos and Reductionism. Nice stuff, well worth watching. Though of course I wouldn't be me if I didn't notice that there were some things about those two topics that would need to be presented a bit differently.

So today, for Christmas, reductionism and how it manifests itself. The short answer for 'what is reductionism?' is, 'modular thinking applied to science'. For the long answer, use the read more link.

I'm an a-hole

So then. It is December 22nd, 2012.

And I am watching History Channel "documentaries" about 2012 end prophecies. And gloating.

Yeah. Cheap, very cheap, I know.

But also enjoyable. Well, mostly. I never bought into the extreme End of the World things at the best of times, but the reason for gloating now is of course how obviously wrong those things were. The one blemish is that History Channel always 'hedges their bets'. It's clear they a) pursue such tripe for sensationalism and b) have the sense not to believe it themselves.

What a shame. This keeps the egg off their faces. I do wonder what happened to the 'experts' they interviewed.

On fiction: some idle napkin calculation

In preparation for writing yet another piece of fan-fiction, I browsed a bit of the AvP wiki. I'm ... impressed? amused? ... that the article on the Nostromo actually has numbers attached to the engine performance. The article on the Sulaco is a bit more skimpy on such data (and it appears to confuse acceleration for velocity).

I love hard sci-fi, and an attempt to make a space-faring future plausible is, I believe, an interesting source of stories. Sometimes though, I wonder whether it's not just better to leave the whole thing numberless. You want truckers in space, fine, postulate some magic that makes getting into space cheap. As long as you follow the implications of the magic, you'll be fine. No need to restrict yourself to tech that, maybe, could actually be built. Or else, you'll likely get in trouble.

What have our brains ever done for us?

There are some voices in the futurology/singularity/pie-in-the-sky business that are saying, sometime soon we will have electronic devices that will exceed the computing power of the human brain. The reasoning goes, when that happens, AI will really take off and the Singularity would finally occur, as intelligent machines will find ever more ingenious ways to increase their computing power. All this is supposed to start, remember, because your laptop, or whatever you'll have in about ten years, will have more computing power than you.

I wonder though where the laptop, or whatever you're having, doesn't already exceed your computing power, in a way. Let me explain.

Sci-hype: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the black-hole starship

There's a lot of, to put it mildly, hair-brained ideas being put forth these years in the service of "pop-sci". Yeah, I suppose they sorta illustrate some concepts, maybe, but they aren't really worth much. Like, say, that thought experiment from Michio Kaku about destroying a planet with nuke-powered orbital lasers. Given the notoriously low efficiency of lasers, why not scrap them and just use the nukes?

Every so often though, an idea finds its way under the rock where I live and sometimes that idea can warm my cynical hater heart. Case in point- what if we had, instead of an engine, a black hole to power our spaceship to the stars?

On fiction- logging review replies

As I've mentioned before, I'm writing a little Prometheus fanfic over at It's not 'selling like hot cakes', as they'd say, but still, some people did feel inclined to leave a comment, and it's only fair to make the responses to their public comments also public. Most of the responses were PMs to the review authors. Apart from cases where the authors reviewed "anonymously" (not having logged in), in which case this is the first time I could respond. Here goes:

On fiction- everyman revisited at a Roadside Picnic

I've recently re-read "Roadside Picnic", from the Strugatski brothers. And I must say, when Norman Spinrad praised the moral transformation present in Alfred Bester's "The stars my destination", I think he should have actually been talking about this book.

"Roadside Picnic" is famous for 'The Zone', or rather, the Zones, places where some kind of aliens have landed, then quickly departed, without attempting contact with humanity, but having left behind various bizzare artefacts.

You have an early example of nanotech in SF, 'the witches' jelly', a "colloidal gas" which turns organic matter into more witches' jelly. You have 'mosquito mange', a "graviconcentrate", a region of intense gravitational attraction that can squish unwary passers-by. You have 'empties', whose purpose is mysterious, 'so-so's, which turn out to be eternal, and replicating, batteries, and so on.

Sci-hype: peta-bytes of BS

I recently bumped into one of those estimations of the power of the human brain, the kind made to make us very proud of our hardware, here. So, apparently, says Paul Reber professor of psychology at Northwestern University, the brain has 2.5 petabytes of long-term storage available. To be fair, his article was mostly meant to reassure any worried readers that they'll never have their brain warn them about "low disk space". Putting a number on that capacity though is very dubious, and as someone with some experience in computer systems, I'll now explain why.