Trans-Speculative Ramblings

If you're not a wild-eyed loon, you're unlikely to appreciate this post. Bear with me a moment, while I establish some context.

Cory Doctorow

So here's the esteemed Cory Doctorow. His recent[*1] post at Locus, The Progressive Apocalypse and Other Futurismic Delights, outlines the parallels between the progressive Enlightenment ideals of human progress, and the science fiction hot topic of the singularity. Accelerating rates of change, empowered by self-improving general artificial (or post-human) intelligence, eventually reaches a point at which society - or the individual - can do anything it wants to. Since, by that point, society is so educated and well-adjusted, so enlightened, its goals are those things that bring yet more progress and joy and compassion into the world.

Describing this as a 'Rapture of the Nerds' (not by Ken MacLeod) is evocative - but it distracts from the important fact that the true singularity is a rapture for everyone. The singularity is only for nerds right now because the nerds are the only ones who get it yet. I posit that one of the most prominent effects of enlightenment - coupled with the availability of resources that such enlightenment would allow - is the freedom to indulge in fairly advanced morality, encompassing an overwhelming realisation of the importance that no concious being gets left behind. Incidentally, this is of course the reason why advanced civilisations tend to sublime en masse, without leaving detectable offshoots mooching around in our universe.

Anyhow, I'm distracting myself. The important thread I'm groping for here is the literal equivalence Cory alludes to between the science fictional singularity, and the biblical judgement day - the trump and the shout, the culmination of all things human, at which point it becomes our turn to sublime, overcoming the restrictions of the physical universe, to take our place in the mind of God Almighty, the living and the dead alike. Or at least those of the dead who had sufficient foresight to have had their state vector preserved, at any rate.

Still with me? Singularity = Judgement Day. Got it? Ok.


Then, over here, we have George Dvorsky, who recently[*1] referenced an old post of his, Our non-arbitrary universe, in which he talks about possible explanations for the extraordinarily unlikely state we find the universe to be in, while attempting to steer clear of the slippery fish that is the strong anthropic principle.

One prominent hypothesis is that the universe's operational parameters have been tuned with excruciating finesse by a process of natural selection, which could be brought about by universes being self-replicating entities. The replication of universes could therefore be theorised, by some mechanism that is completely unknown. This would lead us to expect that universes be tuned for maximal rate of reproduction, whatever that would entail. So why, George asks, does our universe appear to be tuned to be so patently biophilic, ie. conducive to life? All these innumerable cosy blobs of matter basking in the glow of lovely stars, all consisting of an entertaining mixture of quite the most engaging set of chemicals one could ever wish to meet, and so on and so forth, down to the infinitesimal balancing acts of forces that conspire to make nuclear physics work in such a jolly interesting way, and enough spatial dimensions to make interactions interesting without so many as to subject them all to the tiresome severity of a whole family of inverse to-the-ninth laws.

It might simply be that efficiently-replicating universes are coincidentally also biophilic. Certainly there are some characteristics that seem to be equally desirable for either condition, such as universes that are both large and long-lived. However, George discusses the idea of this not merely being a coincidental convergence, but causal, due to life playing a role in helping universes to replicate - hence universes teeming with life will go on to reproduce more, dominating the natural selective process to create more universes which are ever more suitable to life. This could come about if life plays some part in the reproduction of its host universe. Perhaps if intelligent life deliberately causes its host universe to replicate. Who wouldn't want to become God, once we'd figured out how to spawn realities at right-angles to... er... reality?

. . .

Now, I'd like to take a moment here to catch our breath. I'm well aware that we're out on a limb of speculation that is extended so far beyond the realms of anything resembling genuine hypothesis that we cannot consider this to be anything other than a poetic fantasy.

And yet. I can't help but play with the idea of linking the two concepts in my mind. Imagining post-singular civilisations discovering a mechanism by which disjoint bubbles of time and space can be pinched off from our own. Perhaps it can be done under some conditions that already occur naturally, deep in the heart of stars, or in the wrenching oscillations of time and space that wreath a galactic-mass black hole. Or perhaps this is brought about by some conjunction of circumstance that has never occurred before, at least not for all of this universe's timeline.

The first such bubbles are stillborn. Empty and degenerate, lacking coherence enough for either spatial or temporal dimensions, they collapse in spans of time that can barely be considered to exist at all. But the unimaginable intellect of planetary sized masses converted entirely into hyper-spatially networked hive-minds examines the new-found discovery, with an absolute, unerring insight, but also with wisdom, and with compassion. Options are considered, consequences charted, and at the speed of thought vast resources of matter and energy are focussed on replicating the experiment. Enlarging it. Seeding the discontinuities with precisely the right twist of quantum instability for each of the nascent realities to spew forth their own internal fountains of time and space, matter and energy. Riding the feedback of previously uncharted mathematics to inflate each successive genesis to greater and greater energies, weaving ever more intricate internal structures into the harmonious interplay of forces that comprise their innermost workings.

A pause. Awed by their achievements, overcome by the assimilation of the fields of science they have uncovered, and humbled by their potential, the intelligences stop to take stock. To survey their possibilities. Then, inevitably, fulfilling a manifest destiny as old as time itself, leveraging the qualities of the space gifted to them by their own, infinitely distant forebears, they initialise a final push, building on the properties of their own universe to create one still greater. A leviathan, containing an unthinkable torrent of creation, bright enough to light a sky with its echoes forever.

It's the whole "Let there be light" number. Humanity gets to literally become God. And the funny thing is, such a creator is not only imbued with all the properties of a traditional new-testament Christian style God, ie. wisdom and compassion and love, but we simultaneously tie together the Judgement Day of one civilisation's culmination with the Genesis of another's reality. Each successive generation irrevocably separated from their own God by being at right angles to their reality, and yet tied in chains stretching back unbroken through the countless histories of innumerable universes, by the bonds of direct, causal creation.

Anyhow, it's all very derivative, and I stole one irresistible phrase from Benjamin Rosenbaum, but it would make for a smashing short science fiction story, don't you think?

(Note *1: I wrote most of this months ago, but never got around to hitting 'Post', so forgive the no-longer accurate references to 'recent' events.)

The Simpsons Movie / Goodbye Forever

The Simpsons Movie

There is, of course, no point whatsoever in me posting a belated review of the Simpsons Movie, which I and everyone else gleefully watched many months ago now. To the now long abandoned discussions of its merit I have absolutely nothing of value to contribute.

However, that shall not dissuade me from posting this one anyway, since such posts as these are not, as you might assume, for the benefit of my readership, few and benighted as they might be, but instead form an attempt to chart my media consumption habits for my own retrospective perusal.

It was with some dismay, therefore, that I noted that this inverted system of priorities is mirrored in the Herculean task of my reading of other people's posts. Simply put, I seem to be reading other people's blogs in order to make them feel good, upping their stats, making complimentary comments, showing an interest, etc, etc, rather than for my own benefit. Once this cold fact had impinged upon my conciousness, I had only one course of action left open: Cold Turkey. That's right. No more Google Reader.

Abandoning the hampster wheel should free up a considerable amount of my time for other activities, and I am keen to quantify that process, so I will be keeping detailed logs of my time usage for a few days prior and post the switchover, to ascertain exactly how many hours I previously spent looking at labelled pictures of cats, which I will henceforth presumably be free to spend looking at actual labels on cats (or possibly labels on actual pictures of cats, let's not get overly ambitious.)

In a final layer of delicious irony, I shall of course be blogging comprehensively about the entire experience, however your collective reactions to that will remain forever unknown to me. Henceforth you should consider me to be a purely one-way conduit of information. Goodbye forever.



by Douglas Coupland

jPod is a flamboyant return to the corporate cube-farms of Microserfs, arguably the site of Coupland's greatest previous victories. Characters reveal their desperation in guilty subversive rebellions against the corporate tyranny that their apathy condemns them to be ruled by. The artificial intimacy of long-term adjacent cubespace leads to the gleeful exposure of each other's sexual foibles, drug habits, and all the diverse pariphenalia with which they parade their various neuroses.

It's an enjoyably postmodern romp, complete with art-school typographical experiments, the recurring appearance of the author as a minor character, and most of all, the infusion of the whimsical philosophies of the GenX protagonists. Even so, I can't escape the feeling that it's a retread, rather than a successor. When he wrote Microserfs, the newfound viewpoints of the digitally-savvy were fresh and exciting, and Coupland triumphantly provided the voice they lacked. Nowadays such views can stand on their own, indeed they are beginning to comprise mainstream society, and observational exposition such as Coupland's has become redundant. When a character notes with surprise that the Kodak company still exists, and wonders how many years it has been since they employed any young people, it might have been a wry and insightful comment ten years ago. Now it's merely tired and lagging, by virtue of harping on about a worldview that the target audience has all taken as read for as long as we can remember.

Rating: 6/10 - A mixed bag.

Just Married!

Just Married!

At the end of March, Susan and I exchanged rings, vows, signatures and thumbprints on a beach near to Tulum, Mexico, with eighty-five of our families and friends, plus 'TriPawd', the beach's resident three-legged dog.

Thanks to everyone for coming all the way to join the party and making it so special. It all worked out better than we could have hoped - We never imagined that our own wedding would be so spectacularly brilliant. The honeymoon in Guatemala was also astonishingly good, from watching the sun rise over Mayan ruins in the jungle, to hiking volcanoes overlooking lake Atitlan.

We've taken photos from a few people, and put a selection of the best of these online, listed below:

There are also a metric zillion other photos elsewhere too:

If there are more that we haven't yet seen, please let us know!

History meme

$ history | awk '{a[$2]++ } END{for(i in a){print a[i] " " i}}' | sort -rn | head
107 ll # an alias for ls -l
92 cd
50 ./ # a script I use during a presentation I've given a lot recently
35 vi
19 imageresize # a script I wrote to shrink photos before uploading them
17 sudo
17 rm
17 gvim
17 ctags # Does 'history' include shell commands executed by mappings within vi?
13 ls

Denver stagathon

Nun of your business

Some blurry photos are up of an absolutely brilliant stag event in Denver, starting with an afternoon of UK vs rest-of-the-world tomfoolery, which included the most laughing I've done in ages. After a brilliant curry and singstar-style action at Pete's ultimate downtown loft, I was presented with my outfit for the evening (pictured.) We made a beeline for The Bank to reprise the stalwart Colfax crawl route, where we were intercepted by the ladies, and where we then, in turn, intercepted Dana Sisti's engagement party. Finished the night roasting gently in Phil's hot-tub until the dawn. Brilliant.

So brilliant to see everyone. Luv ya! Mean it!

Some much better photos by people with steadier hands and real cameras:

Update: Oh god, there's a video of the cowbell.

Update: The scores are in. It was difficult to discern in the heat of battle, but a rigourous statistical analysis reveals that team UK absolutely dominated the laser quest:


Where you gonna be?

[Google Earth and whereyougonnabe from Peter Batty on Vimeo]

Peter Batty has a funky screencast of his incipient social networking slash geolocation application, Where You Gonna Be? which allows you to see when your future itinerary crosses paths with other people you know. Initially implemented as a Facebook app, it now features Google Earth integration. It's currently restricted to beta testers, but should be opening up to all comers soon.

One day, functionality like this will be part of the ubiquitous and unobtrusive infrastructure of society. For now, there's WYGB.

Lions for Lambs

Lions for Lambs

It got a right drubbing critically, and was a box-office failure, but I found it powerful and compelling. It may not be crafted with the greatest finesse, but nevertheless it raises interesting and powerful questions, of the competence of our leaders in war, of the culpability of the media in towing the line, and of the personal responsibility that falls to each of us.

Most Americans seem unaware that their profligate spending on 'defence', coupled with regular invasions of other countries, cause them to be regarded by much of the rest of the world as the single biggest threat to world peace.

In such an environment, this movie asks us to have the bravery to let our point of view be known, and to take action when our beliefs contradict our Goverments' decision to go to war. For anyone with questions about the justification for the recent wars that America has started (and my own country England has supported) this movie raises many issues, and spoke powerfully to my conscience.

Rating 8/10.

PyCon 2008, Chicago, USA

PyCon USA 2008

PyCon 2008 has been absolutely amazing this week. The talks I've seen and the people I've met have been a real inspiration, and my head is a-whirl with ideas. Above all, as always, I'm impressed by the Python community's genuine warmth. Maybe it's just a function of Python being relatively small compared to some other technologies, but there's something pleasantly hippy (in a good way) about its practitioners. Guido, for example, unsurprisingly turns out to be eminently reasonable and affable, and the IronPython team, to whom I and Resolver owe so much, are a thoroughly pleasant and interesting bunch.

To the people who have been asking for my humble talk slides, you can grab them here in a couple of formats:

If anyone has any outstanding thoughts or questions about the talk, I always love to chat, so please feel free to email me, tartley at the domain (gosh I love love love (Update: email obfuscated - spamarrest is no more.)

Update: There are photos!