Encoding the Abstract (Part One)

 So I got to thinking today, about the way we look at the world. As the world has gotten more scientific, especially with the advent of computers, there has been a trend towards encoding information into data, that is, into numbers. Mathematicians and math enthusiasts (which, it turns out, exist) like to argue that the universe is essentially comprised of math. Math, they say, governs the operation of the universe, every particle and wave can be described with it. I’m not here to argue that. But, as a writer at heart, a man of subjective abstracts rather than objective, concrete facts, I started to wonder where my place was describing the world when numbers, it was being said, can do that much better.

Why describe what color something is? Why tell you that something, say, “was the color of a rose in full bloom”? Roses are all sorts of colors, and even the red ones vary, and even if they didn’t, the picture in your mind does. Wouldn’t it be easier to say that the object was “FF0033”, the hypertext code for a shade of red? That leaves no ambiguity whatsoever. The car was that color, and that color only. So are numbers better at describing our world? And if so, why?

The reason, at least the reason I feel, is not that math explains our universe better intrinsically, but because math is the method which we have honed to explain our universe. For instance, although that code immediately calls a specific shade of red on a computer, you probably can’t immediately call the image of that color. Giving a comparison works better for you, because you are more familiar with it. But the human mind is a fickle thing, and memories can vary mere seconds after they occur. For instance, did you ever notice how, when you dart your eyes a direction, there’s never motion blur? One instant you’re looking straight ahead, the next you’re looking somewhere else, without having to see the in-between? How is that possible? Well, fact is, you do see the blur. But the instant it ends, your mind takes the picture that it is now getting (that is, the direction you turned to look at) and stretches the picture backwards through your memory to fill the space occupied by the blur. Yeah, your mind straight up lies to you, and edits transition effects into your video feed live. That’s why when you look at a clock, it can sometimes appear to be stopped for a moment, until you’ve stared for a bit. Because your mind stretched the picture of the clock back, so you remember seeing it that way for an extra second. So that said, it makes sense why we have encoded so much data into numbers, which can be stored in unerring format on hard drives and paper. Saying someone arrived for work “a bit late” is ambiguous. Saying they arrived for work “five minutes late” is much more precise. So why is that?

Well, as I said, numbers work for precision, in my opinion, because we have honed them for such. Because we’ve gotten used to it. I can say something is 10 inches long, and that is an absolute fact, which can be observed by anyone else, and will be, in the exact same manner. With one rather important exception: we both need to know what inches are. See, data is still dependent on abstracts on one level or another– it’s the ever-present problem of infinite recursion (such as asking for the definition of the word in a definition of a word in a definition, you have to have starting ground in order to understand anything). We only agree on something being 10 inches long if we agree on what the word “inches” means. Luckily, we’ve agreed on standards, so you and I can grab a ruler and agree on the meaning of the phrase “10 inches”. But if we don’t have a ruler handy, then our definitions of that length, and by extension, the thing the length describes, will inevitably be different. Because we don’t memorize data so much as we memorize sensations. We memorize experiences. This is why it’s easier (and considered more poetic) for me to compare a color for you than to describe it exactly using html. That’s also why, on the other hand, I can’t tell a computer that I want my text to be the color of a rose. Computer has go goddamn clue what the hell a rose is, or what color it would be. Even if I showed it a rose, it wouldn’t know whether to use the color of the flower, or the leaves, or the stem. It doesn’t have the intuition that we possess.

But then how does a computer handle any data at all? How can it make a font a specific height? How can it call a certain color? At some point, the recursion kicks in, and we have to say “an inch is an inch”, so how does the computer comprehend this? Luckily for us, mathematicians’ claims are somewhat inaccurate. A computer can handle such information because of hardware limitations. A computer doesn’t know it’s displaying red, but it knows how to tell a monitor to turn the red pixels in an area up all the way. It doesn’t know what an inch is, but it can display a line a particular number of pixels tall, which, thanks to human programming, can be identified as an inch. It doesn’t know what a second is in an intrinsic way. But it knows how many times its processor clock needs to tick in order for this abstract thing that users call a “second” to have passed. But if it were to lose these precise statistics, or to lose the hardware which facilitated them, it would lose all concept of the measurements themselves.

So then, numbers are more precise, but words describe abstracts more loosely, correct? Well, sort of. See, I don’t believe that numbers are any more precise. We have just honed them to be. Lets fall back on the timeless example of color. If I say something is red, that leaves a pretty wide gap of shades to choose from. FF0033, on the other hand, is a very specific shade, and can be no other shade. But the fact is, there are words besides “red” to describe a color. The words we tend to use to describe colors are like the 8-pack of crayons, or the Roy G. Biv (although, honestly, who even uses indigo?). But there are a billion words to describe colors. The problem is, we haven’t all memorized them. If I call something aubergine, would you know what color it was (it’s a plum-like color, named after eggplants)? Probably not, because you weren’t raised to associate colors that specific with meanings. There’s no real reason to. But the coding is there. It’s possible to use a single word to describe a color in the same way that it’s possible to use html code to describe it. The difference is, all computers recognize html code, most humans don’t recognize all of the equivalent colors’ names. But there’s no reason not to. For instance, if I told and interior decorator I wanted my walls painted 2B0B30, he would have no clue what the hell I was smoking. If I said I wanted them aubergine, then he, presumably, (given his experience in the field) would know what color to buy, and be able to suggest complimentary colors, again, with specific shades, but in English, not html.

So is there a way, or reason, to ever code data into sensations, rather than sensations into data? Well, that’s two questions, so hold on a sec. For the first question, of course! We already do. Just as aubergine can be encoded into 2B0B30, 2B0B30 can be encoded into aubergine. That is, in fact, what happens when a web browser encounters the code “2B0B30”, and, instead of simply displaying that, instead displays the color it corresponds with. You perceive facebook as blue not because the code itself is blue, but because the code contains the html version of blue, and your browser translates it before it gets displayed (the shade, btw, is 3B5998). The reason the color’s code is what it is has to do with the fact that monitors display colors using three different shaders on each pixel: green, red, and blue. Using two digits apiece, and hexadecimal coding, a six digit number offers 255 brightnesses of each color, 00-FF. So 000000 is black (with all of the pixels off) and FFFFFF is white (all on). There’s no reason we can’t use this hardware gimmick to encode colors back to digits. The same is true for converting text into ASCII, then to binary, rather than doing the opposite (which is what a word processor does).

But the second question: is there a reason to? At the moment, not really. Although we easily could save any string of numbers as an assortment of pixels of various colors, or as gibberish text, other than for rudimentary and insultingly easy cryptography, at the moment there’d be no reason to. The data is more useful, and takes up just as much space, as the sensation it could be coded as. But let’s fast-forward to the future. The far future. Specifically, the singularity. I’ll get more into the singularity in another blog post, but lets explore a single version of the singularity now. Specifically, the idea of connecting our minds up to computers. This would be game-changing on a planetary level. We would be able to upload and download our minds. We could surf the web, but not using a computer screen. Literally walk down a street with our websites lined up in doorways, or however we chose to represent it. We could upgrade ourselves. We could learn new tasks instantly (think about Neo downloading kung-fu, or Trinity learning to fly a helicopter in The Matrix. Same concept). Death would not be a problem (although our physical bodies would theoretically still age and die (assuming we hadn’t fixed that as well) our minds could exist on hard drives, could still mingle freely with others on the web, and could in theory control robotic bodies in order to allow us to continue simulating a physical presence long after our bodies are dust. (Also, theoretically, one could hack and “possess” another’s body, but that’s a talk for another time)). But lets talk about this singularity, as it relates to our question.

If we can store the human experience on hard drives (as is assumed in this future), then theoretically we can do the opposite– that is, set up file systems in our brains and store computer files there for safekeeping (and possibly for use. Imagine an mp3 or movie encoded and stored in your brain in such a way that you could remember it perfectly, and play it whenever you wanted). It would seem like it would be impossible to take memories off of our brains and put them on hard drives until we understood memories enough that we could also add them. So in that case, encoding sensations becomes very real. Want to feel like you’re in a hot tub? Download the sensation, then remember it. The computers would theoretically still store the sensations as digital data (as we’ve become quite good at it, and will have become exponentially better by this supposed future), and would be exported by some codec into a sensation that your brain could interpret. This is important, because this is pretty wholly what makes this situation so neat, and so far flung– the ability to translate from our brain’s resident coding and file system into a digital one, and back. We, at the moment, have next to no idea how our mind encodes memories. We know it has to do with connections developing between neurons, and we know that it has to do with memory associations (okay, so we know a bit more than that, but compared to our knowledge of the inner workings of computers, we know next to nothing).

And it would be important to do this encoding. Transferring the files without encoding them would make them meaningless strings of numbers (you would remember 2B0B30, but would have no recollection of the color attached to it). This is interesting, because it opens up some interesting theorizing on how we would use the brain as a hard drive.

As I’ve said, computer files are just raw data, and raw data is meaningless and forgettable to the human brain (at least most humans. Some people have a peculiar knack for data over abstract ideas, for instance, the people who can easily memorize Pi to 200 digits, or the “human calculator” type of people). Forgettable data is pretty much useless for storing in the human brain, as it would easily become forgotten (fairly similar to the phenomena of data becoming corrupted nowadays). But if you turned it into a sensation, it could be remembered much more easily. (I don’t remember the date or time of a particular event in my past, but I remember what deodorant I was wearing) This is obviously useful in the storage of sensations themselves, but is also an interesting prospect for storing raw data, using your brain as a flash drive. For instance, take a spreadsheet or a database or webpage or program, something that your brain wouldn’t be able to conceive a sensation for. You could take the raw data, encode it into a sensation (even one that had nothing to do with the file at hand) then burn it to your cerebral hard drive. For instance, turn the entire thing into hexadecimal, split it into groups of six, and remember it as a series of colors, or a picture consisting of those colors in that pattern. Then find a picture that looks similar to that picture. Now, if you recall the similar picture, you can recall the encoded picture, and copy-paste it back onto a computer. This would essentially mean that I could keep a copy of Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 stored away in my head all of the time, so I always had it with me. Then I could just load it back onto a computer, and play it, just like we use flash drives for today.

Another use, and another interesting use at that, would be storing sensitive data. You could encode the launch codes for the USSR’s nuclear missles into a series of colors or scents, load them into an operative, and the operative himself wouldn’t be able to give the codes. He would only know the sensations associated with the codes. But then, of course, you could hook him up to a computer once he’s been safely sprung from the USSR, and translate the sensations back into data, and BOOM, instant launch codes (the BOOM pun was only halfway intentional). And he would have no idea what the codes were, unless he hooked himself up to a computer and decoded the sensations himself. Hopefully the data would still have the standard encryptions we use today. Also, once the code was removed, you could theoretically delete the sensations, and he wouldn’t be able to remember them, thus meaning that he could never decode them himself. I’ll get more into this next time, it’s 2:00 in the morning right now…

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A Treatise on the Legalization of Marijuana

     So, as you may be aware, today is 4/20. I’m hoping most all of you were aware of that. What you may also be aware of, is that 4/20 is the officially recognized “Day To Get High” by gonja smokers the world over. See, the story goes that 4:20 PM is recognized as time to get high, making 4/20 a day long tokefest. Origin stories vary, but the one I find most viable is that the address on the townhouse in “Reefer Madness”, a video exposing the evil dangers of hemp consumption, was in fact 420. Either way, the number is recognized by all sorts of different illicit circles as a code word for Mary Jane herself. So, on this day, the twentieth of April, I offer you a blog post, after an unforgivably long hiatus (I was moving, so sue me).

As the title may have led you to believe, this is going to be rant about weed. To be specific, a rant in favor of weed’s legalization. Pro-pot, if you will. So going in, we should make a few things clear. One, I am not a user. I have known people who use, but I have a tenancy to avoid mind-altering substances, be they alcohol, tobacco, weed, or religion (zing!). I still vote in favor of marijuana consumption being legalized, while managed. I’m fairly libertarian, and this is one issue on which it shows. Two, I’m not going to make any of the following arguments:

  • That marijuana taxation would magically fix the economy. Stupid idea, conceived by those who don’t comprehend simple math.

  • That marijuana is good for you. It doesn’t cure cancer, it doesn’t help your respiratory system, and studies have shown that three joints do as much damage as twenty cigarettes. So shut it.

  • That marijuana’s being less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco means it should be legalized. Most of the arguments that head that direction just make me feel that alcohol and tobacco need outlawed.

     And three, I don’t condone breaking the law, even (or rather especially) to protest said law. I don’t believe in buying guns just in case guns are outlawed, and I don’t believe in smoking up simply to try to prove a point. Both are just examples of people who have found a law they want to break, but are too self-righteous to admit it, so they’ve found an excuse that makes them look like martyrs for their cause, rather than just common outlaws.

       Moving on…

     So, I’m in favor of the legalization of reefer. And I’m not a toker myself. Let that sink in a minute. I suppose the reason why I’m in favor of the legalization of hashish is simply because I believe in letting a man destroy himself, if he so wishes. Now, obviously, I don’t like the idea of people being addicted. And I would, if I felt a friend were ruining his/her life with the stuff (or with anything), step in. But as far as the law is concerned, I don’t feel that the government, or any entity therein, has any right to say what I can and can’t do in relation to my own life. I have a strict live and let live stance on this one. Outlaw drunk driving, it can hurt others. Outlaw murder, it hurts others. Don’t outlaw gay marriage, it has no effect on anyone outside the couple. Don’t outlaw marijuana usage, it doesn’t hurt anyone other than the user. Unlike the legacy of other drugs, herb doesn’t carry side effects that are dangerous to passersby. There’s no reefer raging going on. Ever met users? Mellowest people in the world. True, it ruins the user’s lungs. True, it can start to cause brain damage after long use (akin to alcohol). But the fact is, as an adult human being, I feel I am capable of weighing the risks of such an activity on my own. I can ride my bike without a helmet, and I accept the responsibility if I crack my head wide open. I can try to do a double backflip off a roof while drunk, and I accept responsibility if I break my neck. I can leave my guitar on the floor, and I accept responsibility if I trip over it and cut my foot open (that kills, btw). I’m an adult. If I can accept the responsibilities of a job, and a marriage, and an apartment, and college, and am able to sign up for military service, then I can accept the responsibilites of cannabis use. I’m an adult human being, whose capacity for reason and inference is matched by no creature on planet Earth. Quit pretending you know what’s better for me better than I do. You know what? Maybe you do. But it’s on my head if I don’t heed your warnings. I acknowalge the warning, I accept the EULA, and I’ll sign the waiver. Let me be my own man. I’ve been waiting eighteen years for the chance.

     I do not believe, however, that legalizing marijuana will somehow stop or lessen the violence in Central and South America over the marijuana trade, or that drug kingpins will fall with the law’s inception. It’s a wonderful thought, and I certainly understand where the idea comes from, but the fact of the matter is, these drug lords are, above all else, businessmen. They’re producing a product, and selling it for profit. For one, there’s more buyers than in just America, so I don’t see their stock just plummeting the moment legalization hits. First of all, there will still be no supply for the first few months that pot is legal. There are farms in Colorado and California and such, but I simply don’t believe that they can supply the amount that the populace would demand upon legalization. This provides the drug lords with a cushion, and one they’ll have been preparing for if they pay any attention to American press at all, and I would imagine they do. Secondly, even if America were where their sole income were coming from, they would, as businessmen would, simply change their product. They would start planting coca plants, or poppies, or whatever else would sell well once weed lost its low supply, high demand pricing. I’d love to believe that it were that easy to topple regimes, but they are in power because they are cunning and ruthless. Drug related deaths in America would drop, but worldwide, I don’t see a Pax Pangea coming on due to America’s marijuana laws.

     The only argument I’ve ever heard against marijuana legalization that I thought was decent, came from 4chan (reread that sentence to make sure you read it right). The argument was, that a number of people, mainly kids, use marijuana not so much for the high, but to show that they’re cool. It’s a rite of passage. If marijuana becomes legal, it loses that allure, and the kids looking to show their cojones turn to drugs like crack or meth, since marijuana is something anyone can do. Although I agree with this in principle, I’m against attempting to predict the future. There’s no data to support this figuring, and until there is, a decision can’t be made based off of what we feel might happen.

 

     If this were XKCD, the title-text would say something about how I used nine different words to refer to marijuana, ten if you count 4/20.

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The Future of Music

Music. It makes the people come together, if Madonna is to be believed. So I’ve been thinking about music lately, more precisely, where music is right now, and where it’s headed. I’ve thought, over the past few years, about what is generally regarded as the “degradation” of music. Though I feel that this degradation is similar to the “degradation” of culture in the world, which apparently works under the assumption that everything was just peachy in an age where blacks couldn’t vote, women couldn’t hold jobs, and gays could be burned at the stake. Things are apparently much worse now, we’re not near as “refined”. Whatever.

But basically, the degradation of music theory goes like this: at some point in the past, be it the thirties or 1300’s, music hit a peak. It was the best it would ever be. Since that point, music has been degrading steadily. Look at the time line for a minute, and it appears true: the “classics” of Beethoven, the classic Presley, Beatles, Jackson and such. At any given time, music was better yesterday. But that’s the thing. We only regard these songs as classics because they’re old. At the time they came out, no one knew that the songs would be classic. Sure, people liked them, but they were no more novel to the listeners than any other song out there, and the “classics” were more than likely regarded as better. In fact, the Beatles were once denied a record deal, with the company saying “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” Yeah. The Beatles. And yes, guitar music. Obviously not true, we can see that now, but at the time, people who made their living predicting who would be hot and who wouldn’t turned down the quartet from Liverpool. They weren’t born classic. They became that way, the more we reflected. That, after all, is what makes music classic, it’s timelessness. Who’s to say whether Bonanza by Akon or Low by Flo’ Rida won’t some day fit that same category? Joan Osborne’s One of Us was despised by many when it came out, due to its suggestion that God was “just a slob like one of us.” (Christians, really? But more on that later) But now it’s fairly well remembered, and I’d say we’ll continue to see it on airwaves for quite a while. It’s not that music is degrading, its just changing. We’re just not used to the new stuff yet, so it doesn’t seem as good. That, and humans are psychologically conditioned to like the past better than the present.

Okay, now that I’m done explaining that there’s no way to predict music, I’m going to try to predict where music will head for the next ten years. You’ll notice that it’s 2012, not 2010. There’s two reasons for that: one, I have no control over the flow of time (at least not yet) and two, I’ve always found that a given genre doesn’t really get its sound until a few years into the given decade. For instance, Rush, Rush, by Paula Abdul, the Billboard Number One on the day I was born in 1991, has a very ’80s sound. Many songs that came out in the early ’80s sound more like ’70s songs than ’80s songs. And so on. So I feel that, if music is going to change, it’s going to do so in the second through fourth year of it’s decade. A bit like Harry Potter. Another important observation is that music does, in fact, change every ten years or so. It’s a gradual change, so it’s hard to put exact numbers, but it’s generally a decade. Eighties pop saw metal-like guitars over synthetic drums. Nineties pop saw subtle synths, such as string pads, and other sounds that didn’t “sound” like techno. 2000’s (we really need to find a name for that decade…) saw sawtooth and squarewave-like sounds coming into prominince, and saw the rise of rap music, specifically West Coast rap, which has repeating high riffs over a main beat, whereas East Coast rap is more strictly drum and bass. Towards the turn of the decade, we saw musicians like Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga, who were bringing singing back (thank God), though still laying it down over rap-like beats.

So, what does the future hold? Well, first, lets talk about what the future doesn’t hold. I don’t see indy or reggae taking over. The closest thing we’ve seen to that is bands like 311, who are willing to blend the reggae/indy sound with hip hop and rock elements, and genre experiments like Sublime’s Santeria. Leaning towards more towards other hipster-y music, I don’t see acoustic indy doing much either. I absolutely love Decemberists and Frank Turner, and I could perhaps see either landing a single song on mainstream airwaves, but I don’t see the acoustic types taking over, if for no other reason, than because we’re far too ingrained into our electric sounds. Not that the above bands don’t use said sounds, and not that either isn’t a fine band/singer to listen to (I recommend The King is Dead and England Keep My Bones, respectively), but I don’t see them forcing their way into the mainstream, at least as it is now. A shift in musical tastes in the coming decade could make people more open to those sounds, but if my prediction for the next decade is correct, then that shift isn’t coming. I think too many of us regard indy bands (possibly correctly) as basically Beatles tribute bands playing original material. We like that, but we’ve had that. I don’t see us getting hungry for more for a while. I also feel I can rule out country, because while country has never been “mainstream”, it has always held a close second place, and also, as with indy, we’ve already heard it. We want something new. We’re insatiable, us listeners.

So here it is, and it kind of kills me to say it: dubstep. Not dubstep in its current form, of course, but a new form based off of current dubstep. Fact is, although many listeners in todays mainstream audience enjoy dubstep, I think right now it’s more as a novelty or in small portions. The fact is, most dub doesn’t have any lyrics, or has very few. It’s not singable, and singability is actually incredibly important to the success of a given genre. What I see is dubstep backing more traditional vocals. For instance, rap verses with a sung refrain (like in the early 2000’s). A good example of this is the band Hadouken! who use heavy techno while still having a pop-y sound and singability. Another example, and one achieving more widespread recognition is LMFAO. I could see performers like Skrillex paving the way for this, along with current pop mainstays such as Lady Gaga. This would be a music style that would perhaps utilize dubstep’s heavy editing and effects to produce new and interesting vocals. Autotuning (or more accurately, deliberate autotuning, as autotuning has been used by singers like Brittney Spears for years now) has already started to add a techno-like sound to vocals, and I could see more effects attached in patterns and combinations to produce a vocal performance unlike anything performed raw, a true vocal performance, but true to the dubstep roots that the music has. I have my fingers crossed, because I could get into this, if I tried. I’m already okay with industrial, so I think I could stand this dubstep-pop blend. Like Backstreet Boys or Billie Piper if they were darker and heavier (which would be legit). So, here’s hoping.

Now, a list of bands, genres, and other music I mentioned above:

Joan Osborne – One of Us – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B4CRkpBGQzU
Paula Abdul – Rush, Rush – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqyIaNWP0T0
Billy Idol – White Wedding – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9j6DE6RnSk (’80s sound)

*Nsync – Bye Bye Bye – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo-KmOd3i7s&ob=av2e (’90s sound)

Lady Gaga – Bad Romance – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrO4YZeyl0I&ob=av3e (’00s sound)

2Pac feat. Dr. Dre – California Love – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWOsbGP5Ox4 (West Coast Rap)

311 – Time Bomb – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-CmYTWKpqXE

Sublime – Santeria – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEYN5w4T_aM&ob=av2n

Decemberists – Calamity Song – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJpfK7l404I&ob=av3n

Frank Turner – If Ever I Stray – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcWz_8Y9Bd0

DJ Afterparty – http://soundcloud.com/dnov (Dubstep)

Hadouken! – Rebirth – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8R1sYWEKEw

LMFAO – Party Rock Anthem – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQ6zr6kCPj8&ob=av3e

Skrillex – First of the Year (Equinox Remix) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cXDgFwE13g&ob=av2e

Billie Piper – Day and Night – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhz27-BCj9o

Go forth and rock, brothers and sisters.

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Wormholes

Wormholes. God where do I begin on wormholes?

Oh wait, right here.

Okay, so a wormhole is a small hole-like thingy in the time-space continuum. Like, really tiny. Like, inside atoms tiny. But the weird thing about these tiny hole-thingies is that they’re not just holes in space. They’re also holes in time. Basically, if you threw a ball through a hole in a wall, or a hole in a tree, or a hole in most anything, it would come out the other side, right? Well, throw a ball through a hole in the fabric of reality, and it would come out the other side too, only instead of being a different location in space, it would be a different point in time. It would act as a tunnel, linking two specific points in time for a bit, before collapsing (like a tunnel in the ground collapsing shut). Pretty simple, since our generations have been steeped so heavily in sci-fi.

So what if you made it bigger?

If you found a way, using a colossal amount of power and some deep magic, to resize a wormhole, say, the size of a small car, then you could drive said car through time, into the future, or, more interestingly, into the past.

Ah, but we have a problem.

See, you can’t go back in time. It breaks the universe. Badly. Because of the simplest, most fundamental law of all reality: causality. Put simply, cause comes before effect, and never the other way around. There’s a famous explanation of this called the Grandfather Paradox, but I’m going to use Stephen Hawking’s simpler version, the Mad Scientist Paradox. It goes like this:

A mad scientist is desperate to see if he can violate causality. So desperate (and mad) that he’ll give his own life to test the laws of nature. So he constructs a wormhole that leads twenty seconds into the past. While standing in front of the wormhole, he puts together a pistol and loads it. Now he walks around to the other side of the wormhole, and can see himself opening the suitcase that contained the gun, and starting to put it together.

He shoots himself.

Or rather, the version of him 20 seconds ago, who is loading the gun. Other him drops dead. Now, here’s the problem: the gun lies unloaded on the floor, and there is no one to shoot it. So who will kill the man? No one, so he’s still alive. Which means he’s free to kill himself. Which means he lives. Until he dies. But he lives.

Problem.

Now, in physics, if there’s a law that can’t be broken, there’s a mechanism in place to keep that law from being broken. For instance, you can’t go faster than the speed of light. When you get close, time slows down for you. Seriously. So no matter how hard you try, you can’t reach the speed of light, because time slows as you try to speed up.

Stephen Hawking suggests that a similar concept exists to protect causality. Feedback. If you put a speaker in front of a microphone, the sound will feed through the mic, get amplified, and come out of the speakers, to repeat this loop continuously, getting louder each time. Eventually, feedback left unchecked will destroy the sound system. Hawking suggests a similar event would occur with a wormhole, but involving radiation. There is always a small amount of background radiation, no matter where you are in the universe. You radiate it yourself. Light, heat, microwaves, radio waves, cosmic rays, all flying through the air around you all the time. Now let’s revisit that scientist’s wormhole, shall we?

The wormhole opens. Light, sound, and all manner of energy pour in from both sides. Energy from the future pours into the past. And is still here in the future, where it gets thrown through the wormhole. Now all that energy is in the past, which becomes the future. Now all that energy pours through the wormhole into the past. The energy compounds until the wormhole can’t sustain itself and collapses. Now, since most radiation moves at about the speed of light, this would all happen in a blink. No more wormhole. 😦

But being the dreamer I am, I tried to think of a way to visit the past anyways.

My thinking went like this: in order to go back in time without breaking the wibbly-wobbly universe, you would have to be incapable of interacting with it in any way. You could certainly watch events from the past, but you couldn’t change them. So then I got the solution.

What if the wormhole made you ethereal? You attach a tether to a sturdy object, then jump through. On the other side, you’re a ghost. You can see yourself, but no one in that time can see you. You’re invisible, intangible… Gravity and other such forces don’t even effect you. Momentum could still work, as you would carry that energy with you, and it could only effect you. Friction would work too, but only with yourself and your tether. You can’t touch anything else. This would allow you to freely witness historical events, while rendering you incapable of altering timelines. The feedback issue wouldn’t occur, because all of the energy from your world would become ethereal with you, rendering it null.

This would also answer the age old question: if time travel is possible, where are all the time travelers? They’re watching us, silently. Probably not for day to day stuff, because I’d imagine wormholes would be expensive. But at Tiananmen Square, at Occupy Wall Street, at the speeches of MLK, and Hitler, and Jesus. At the stabbing of Caesar, and the shootings of Lincoln and Kennedy. Completely unseen. Stephen Hawking once threw a party for time travelers, and no one showed up. If I’m correct, there could have been hundreds of people there, invisibly watching as Hawking sipped champagne alone.

So, there you go. Thoughts?

(Disclaimer: This is merely a thought experiment, a hypothesis at best. There is no evidence that I am aware of that supports or disputes these claims. This isn’t meant to be a “this is” but a “what if”. And Mr. Hawking, if you somehow are reading this, sorry for disputing you so much. You’re awesome, and if you have another welcome future people party, invite me and I’ll wait with you.)

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Happy New Year

So… New Years. Yep. Feel like I should write something to mark the occasion, but between the music and watching other people dance while being to hipster to do so myself, I’m having trouble focusing. So this will be a messy, sloppy, disorganized, riotous blog post at best. Befitting of New Years I suppose.

2011 has been quite a year. Stuff has happened, junk has changed, and other shit. Can’t remember what, but I think some of it might have been important. Things have changed for me alot this year, I think. It’s weird, but every year I age, the less impact I feel the year has on me. Like, when I was five, 1996 was one fifth of my life. 2011 is only one twentieth. Weird thing about aging, days get longer and years get shorter. Hmm.

Looking back, I said goodbye to a good friend (moved, not dead), saw my roommate situation change multiple times, saw a good friend get married (same not-dead friend), switched to full time, started multiple stories (ready for the plug? Here it is), killed a laptop, won an iPad, bought a computer, dated, broke up, paintballed, met new people and disconnected from old ones, and slept alot more than I care to mention (although I suppose technically that is mentioning it). Quite a full year. I’m sure there’s more, I’ll have to look back at old Facebook posts to find out. I’d encourage others to do the same. Or don’t. Whatever.

Looking forward, I’m returning to school this year. I also found out a way I could save a ton of time and money on college. So w00t there. Gonna try to be careful with my money this year, I’ve been getting good about it lately. Gonna try to get out more, hopefully date more, maybe just make more friends, maybe just get closer to the ones I’ve got. I turn 21 next year, that’s apparently a big deal to someone somewhere. Thinking about going to Vegas, riding the roller coaster that tours the strip. See some shows, play some fruit machines (that’s British for slot machine, I learned today). I read in a book how to find the loose slots, so we’ll see if that actually works. Gonna try to go to the gym, I’ve been paying for it for the past year, but apparently you have to show up too… Gonna try to set a fitness goal of some kind so that I actually show up. Haven’t decided quite how that’s gonna work… Gonna try to record a song too, something symphonic rocky. We’ll see.

So, comment. What was your favorite part of last year, what will be your favorite part of this year?

Also, on December 22nd, 2012, the alleged end of the world, I’ll be jamming to Calamity Song by the Decemberists, I invite you to join me.

Peace, and happy new year.

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Occupied (part two)

Another thing that’s interesting (or probably boring, but interesting to me) is that the movement has aquired the praise of both hacktivist group Anonymous and the Elders of Civil Rights (which apparently is a total thing). The Elders are calling OWS a pivotal point in civil rights history, and Anonymous has pledged their support and protection to members of OWS.

To that end, Anonymous has taken to doxing members of the NYPD who are involved in brutality cases (or, more accurately put, alleged to be involved). Doxing, for those who are unaware, is the process of locating personal info on a target (name, phone, address, family info, work info, etc.) and post it to a public location, such as an Internet forum. From there, anyone and everyone can harass the target, doing anything from prank calls or threats to graffiti and picketing. Opponents of Anonymous renounce the activity as cowardice, while Anonymous sees it as simply gathering information that is already publicly available. My take? Sure it’s underhanded, but you can bet that the first thing the police do after arresting a protester is get all their information, to later be posted in newspapers. Sure, Anonymous does it with ill intent, but they’re not doing anything specifically illegal, and the responsibility lies less with Anonymous and more with the people who abuse that information. Gun manufacturers certainly get away with that claim, so why don’t protesters?

Another thing I find rather odd is the Tea Party’s reaction to the Occupy movement. The Tea Party hates the Occupy Wall Street movement. Now, I understand that one is more liberal and the other is more conservative. I get that, I do. But what they both are is grassroots movements intent on not being controlled by the government. They have differing goals on how to achieve it, and differing plans for their end goals, but the path between is the exact same, and it really wouldn’t hurt their causes at all if more than 2% of Americans voted Libertarian. So why don’t they join forces?

One of the reasons TP is pissed at OWS is a simple one– envy. For the past three years the Tea Party has been all over the media, heralded both as a movement by the people for the people, and as certifiably insane. Now, all of the sudden, their limelight is gone. So their pissed. Let’s face it, the Tea Party is, for the most part, nonexistent. Sure, they’ve had some effect on the Republican primaries, but if a conservative takes the White House next year, he’s going to be Republican, not Tea Party.

I don’t really like the Tea Party.

In the camps themselves, things seem to be going well. There have been issues, of course, with the owners of the land being “occupied” not necessarily approving of the fifty plus squatters that moved in overnight. However, it seems like many towns don’t mind giving the protesters room to stay, so long as the protesting is non-disruptive. Now I’m sure part of this is a legal move, that is, to what extent can a city boot protesters out of parks before it becomes a free speech issue. Also, I’m willing to bet part of it is political. Fact is, the occupiers are going to try to stay regardless of what authority figures say. So long as they’re not being disruptive, allowing them to stay is an olive branch of sorts, and makes the authority figure appear humane and caring. Now that’s not to say that government figures aren’t humane and caring, or that none of the gifts being granted to OWS are out of goodwill, because I certainly can’t make that claim, and would love nothing more than for such things to be true. But this is politics, so you have to take ulterior motives into consideration.

A recent trend in occupying, at least here in Iowa, is occupying campaign offices, until the police eventually drag you out. Although there are usually only a few occupiers per instance, it’s happened quite a few times in the past weeks. Gotta say, I disagree with this tactic. Not necessarily because I like the current choices for president, but because the OWS movement, by protesting every candidate, is getting nothing done. They’ve become the Tea Party after all. Continuously complaining, but not willing to fix the problems they’re identifying. Anyone can yell “hey, this thing is broke”, but few are willing to say “hey, I’ll fix it.”
It’s much easier to complain that things suck than it is to make them suck less.

Alright, done ranting for now I think. There’s more sh*t to talk about anyways, so I’m done with this topic for now. Stay tuned for Druidry, wormholes, and a clip from Doctor Who. Later.

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Occupied (part one)

Sorry for the lack of new content on what is supposed to be a fairly consistent and timely blog… Also sorry for formatting errors and other such slop, updating from my iPad. Here goes.

If you’ve been watching the news at all the past few months, you’ve no doubt heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the smaller clone movements nationwide. You’ve more than likely heard both the good and the bad, the stands against police brutality, and the violence perpetrated by the protesters themselves. Before we go any further, let me establish the following:

I am in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Alrighty, now that I’ve taken care of that, let’s move on.

When the Occupy movement started, the press was strangely silent. Seriously, for the entire first week, there was zero press coverage, aside from leftist blogs and more alternative media. The press seemed to hope that this was a minor occurrence, to fade to black and be swept under the rug without mention. Unfortunately enough for them, this wasn’t the case, as two months(ish) later they show no signs of slowing, despite cold weather starting to set in.

Some of the flaws of the movement, pointed out early and still heavily present today, is their lack of an agenda. They seem to lack a clear set of demands, as I’ve seen multiple lists, ranging from basic libertarian goals to a near carbon copy of The Communist Manifesto. Part of the problem seems to be similar to one of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the hacker group Anonymous (more on that connection later), which is their ambiguity as a group. There’s no leaders, no hierarchy of any kind. On one hand this means that there’s no one person instrumental in their operation (and therefore targetable by the opposition) it also means that just about everyone can claim to be part of the 99% and make up their own demands, and no one can really refute it. There’s no central authority to go through, no seal of approval that marks the comment, post, or press release as officially from the protesters, or just from a couple of fringe protesters, or even an opponent trying to make them look bad. There’s no list of demands because it’s not one organization, it’s a cloud of people, each with their own desires and goals for the movement. I’ve always loved studying the mob mentality of Anonymous, and will admit I get a guilty pleasure out of watching OWS for the same reason– seeing people work together without a leadership structure is strange. Tribes, villages, towns, nations… Human society has always centered around having a leader or leaders to guide them, whether it be a CEO, president, or the Vatican. I find it fascinating to watch a group with no such support structure operate, and to find the strengths and failings therein. Interesting.

Moving on… As the press attention has increased, it seems as if the instances of criminal activity associated with the group has increased as well. From civil disobedience to assaulting officers on one side, and plenty of police brutality on the other. No fatalities yet, thank Yoda, but plenty of violence from both sides. These once innocuous protests are quickly becoming the “class war” that we’ve all been told to fear (although I’m not yet convinced that the poverty gap is so great that war is the only outcome). The protesters are sick of feeling downtrodden and ignored, and the corporates are sick of bad publicity. And I have a feeling things will get worse before they get better. And again, I admit to getting a guilty pleasure from watching it all unfold. This is history people.

One thing that has been brought into the light recently is that several companies targeted by the movement (JP Morgan and Bank of America, among others) are also regular donators to the New York Police Department. While this act isn’t necessarily aggressive by any means, it certainly calls into question the neutrality of the NYPD. Especially considering that the NYPD is a private nonprofit, and so doesn’t have to disclose where it’s donations come from. This means that, potentially at least, a metric asston of money is being poured into the NYPD and (again, speculating) that this could easily be swaying the NYPD to be more oppressive or violent than they otherwise would be, even subconsciously.

That’s it for part one, twos half done. Goodnight.

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