Saturday, February 14, 2009

Going dark

I'm pulling the plug. I started this blog with the intention of putting an edge back on my extremely-rusty writing skills, as I have a fiction project that I wanted to work on, but hadn't written a word of fiction in over a decade. So I thought doing a blog would help me get into a routine of writing something every day. However, the blog has failed dismally at its intended purpose: firstly, I haven't written a blog post a day, not by a long shot. Second, this blog isn't fiction, so the skills I was hoping to hone a little bit remain rusty. Third, it's just been a distraction from writing fiction - when I have written anything, it's been here.

So, this blog needs to go dark for a while so I focus. If I'd written a page a day of fiction, I could have finished by now! This blog has become an excuse for me to procrastinate, nothing more.

Bah-bye, folks, it's been... meh. Only a handful of people were reading this anyway. Thank to those of you who did tune in. Everyone else will regret their actions when the insect overlords descend from Dimension Ten, enslave the planet, and appoint me Overlord.

As a parting gift, here's a draft excerpt from my fiction project.
The Triumphant was a Bussard ramjet: a ship powered by scooping stray hydrogen atoms from the almost-complete vacuum of interstellar space with an electromagnetic net six thousand kilometers wide, and forcing them through to the ship’s engine, where they became fuel for a continual fusion blast. Pending the birth of the genius who would solve the final dream of mankind, to soar among the stars with the ease and swiftness of birds, the ramjet was the best answer available to the vast distances between stars: self-fueling, economical, capable of continuous acceleration to a maximum speed governed by the velocity of the engine fires.

It had drawbacks. A ramjet was an enormously difficult craft to pilot. The electromagnetic fields that formed the scoop were half the diameter of the Earth and bone-shatteringly powerful; they would tear apart any matter in their path and reduce it to its component atoms. Ramjets did not maneuver well, were easily slowed by solar winds, and needed to sail dangerously close to their destination star in order to decelerate. The ship could, in theory, decelerate simply by turning off the fusion motor and letting the drag of the interstellar hydrogen particles collected by the ramscoop fields slow it, but that was definitely the slow way to apply the brake and was rarely used. It was far more effective to sail the ship close to a star, risking annihilation in a myriad ways, scoop up the vastly greater number of free hydrogen atoms in the corona, and apply the energy to the braking thrusters.

Threading a ramjet’s path at thousands of kilometers a second, through the violent storms of a star’s corona, to achieve the correct velocity and vector for insertion to the target planet’s orbit, without damaging the ship or its cargo, was a feat to be attempted only by supermen or madmen. Solar flares – storms of searing radiation millions of kilometers long – could inject themselves into the flight path arose with no warning. To fly near one – let alone through – would destroy the ship. To avoid disaster required the best of AI predictive modelling, combined with human judgment and the reflexes of a jungle cat.

Aaron Stanisic thought he knew his craft. A captain could only pilot a craft once; the sheer length of interstellar voyages meant that each captain was simultaneously the best that could be found to pilot the craft, and an utter novice at actually doing it. Oh, extensive training was undertaken, all ancilliary nano was embedded, any remotely useful software was uploaded, and hundreds of hours of simulation was performed before a captain would set foot inside their ship. But all the preparation was a guess: no-one would ever return from a successful voyage to tell what was actually useful as training, and what was complete dross. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars was spent on training that could, quite conceivably, be totally irrelevant. What were conditions like in the fathomless blackness between stars? How were the fuel-atoms distributed? How did the solar winds blow? Were there pockets of total void where a ship could find itself becalmed? Quite simply, no-one on Earth knew, and no-one would ever know. Not without captaining a ship themselves; and in so doing, to never return.

The captain knew their ship completely and utterly. No lover ever knew their paramour so well. The captain knew the location, designation, tensile strength, manufacture, flex, and every other physical property of every component – every bolt, every plate, every wire. Every other part of their training was conjecture, supposition, myth and fancy.

So armed, Aaron Stanisic led the Triumphant, loaded with the data-engrams of five thousand, three hundred and sixty-one colonists – mind and body, soul and DNA – across a hundred light-years of cold and dark. Every shipboard event – equipment malfunction, decision point – was met rapidly, calmly, professionally; analysed, a plan developed, enacted; the issue wrestled to submission, and quietly entered as another simple entry in the captain’s log.

He did well (and more than well) when the ship itself was the problem. Why not? He was prepared for any eventuality and armed with all the armamentarium the enormous shipyards of Earth could offer. Aboard ship, he was a god: omniscient, omnipotent, and (arguably) omnibenevolent. He floated weightless in the command womb, so intimately linked and embedded into the Triumphant so that where he ended and the ship began was a meaningless distinction. It would be as well to ask where your blood begins, where your breath ends, and what your colon has to say about it all.

So, needless to say, when it came to the actual crisis, Aaron Stanisic fucked it up massively.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Your PC: artifical guppy? Um, no.

Hans Moravec is a legendary figure in the sphere of artifical intelligence. He produced this slide showing the power of Moore's Law and drawing analogies to the brains of animals.

It demonstrates two things immediately: firstly, that computers may have the processing ability of a human brain by 2030. Secondly, that the computers we have now have the rough equivalent processing power of a lizard or guppy.

Does that mean that your computer can be held to be roughly analoguous to a lizard or guppy (or, at some point in the future, a human)? Well, self-evidently, no. All this diagram shows is that your computer has the same processing ability as the brain of those animals - it can perform around 10,000 MIPS (million instructions per second). It in no way means that your PC is your pet lizard.

So what's missing? What is holding your PC back from being roughly similar to a small, fairly unlovable (except if you're my son Ben) animal? The Turing test holds that a certain level of artificial intelligence has been reached if a person can't distinguish between a computer and another human being in natural conversation with both of them. I think there's a bit more to it than that. What's missing for me is initiative and self-motivation. You don't find your computer getting up of its own accord and finding some DVDs to watch. (This is why I always thought internet-connected kitchen appliances, like a fridge, was a bad idea. Apart from anything else, I do NOT want my fridge browsing the net for bad porn.)

Even if one day we do have computers with the same processing capability as a human brain, there is a hell of a lot of work to do before AI can be developed to the point where it would have even rudimentary self-direction. Personally, I'm relieved. We haven't yet figured out, as a species, how to treat each other with elementary courtesy and kindness, so the problems that arise from bringing another class of intelligence into being are, thankfully, a long way away. Maybe by the time we do, we won't have given them cause to disown us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Danny Nalliah is no man of God

Nalliah, in case you're not familiar with him, has previously been successfully prosecuted for vilifying Muslims by stating that Muslims were demons training to make Australia an Islamic state, that the Koran promoted violence and killing, and that Muslims derived money from drugs. Pause right there, and contemplate how much of a Christian he's demonstrated himself to be. Now brace yourself, because it gets worse.

Today, he has clearly underlined that he is no moral authority - he barely has morals at all - and deserves nobody's respect. He lies, highjacks national tragedies to further his own questionable agenda, and expects everyone to not only accept his pathetic pathological cries for attention, but to applaud and ask for more.

Today, via the SMH:
The Catch the Fire Ministries has tried to blame the bushfires disaster on laws decriminalising abortion in Victoria.
If you can't already see the raging stupidity in attempting to make that link, then I can't help you, and you should leave now. Really.
The Pentecostal church's leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with "a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb."
It's almost too much to encompass. Please, Danny, go to one of the towns left a blackened, mourning shell by bushfire, and tell the locals about your theory. Please, please go. I'll pay your airfare. And I'll call the ambulance for you right now.

How monstrous, how unforgiveably smug and self-righteous, to say that God has killed hundreds and ruined thousands of lives because of the current state government's laws. Was that prophesied as well? If not, did God tell the voters of Victoria directly? I don't recall any reports of God speaking to them and saying "You go badger your local MPs not to make abortion legal, now, because if you don't, in a few months, I'll burn the whole countryside and make it look like a completely natural occurence! (Except for a few arsonists who I'll stay quiet about to make sure they get the blame.)" Well, if neither, then how precisely were the residents of Kinglake going to know?

Nalliah has no idea what the bushfire victims thought about abortion - statistically, some would have agreed with him (and hence, by implication, with God, although I've yet to find the bible verse with the old Aramaic for "abortion" or "stem cell research"). Is he saying that God didn't care and killed them anyway? Is that his God? Poor, poor man. Or didn't God know? I know Nalliah sure doesn't; we don't even know who a lot of them are yet, and may never know some. Oh, I forget, this comes from the same religious mindset that says it's okay to kill whole cities of civilians in warzones. Or that amputees' limbs don't grow back because they don't have enough faith. Sick, morally stunted, perverse excuse for a human being, you are, Nalliah.

Even if I agreed with Nalliah on the issue of abortion, I'd push him off a cliff for this little contribution. He has done for the abortion debate what Port Arthur did for gun ownership.

Secondly, he's lied. It never happened. There was no magic dream from his invisible sky fairy. How can I say that with such confidence? Well, AAP documented what Nalliah chose to publically speak about on October 22, the day after he was supposedly visited by (cough) prophecy:
Rain and a prime minister of God's choosing were the focus of prayers from 600 flag-waving, singing and dancing Christians in Parliament House in Canberra today. As Pastor Danny Nalliah, from Catch the Fire Ministries, asked God to open the heavens and give Australia much-needed rain the gathering in the Great Hall was joined by 50 farmers taking part in a protest outside Parliament.
"(We pray) that their farmland will be blessed to produce what they need," he said. "We love you, all of you in the farming sector. We thank you and are grateful for all of the hard work you do on our behalf."
Gee. Not a word there of impending bushfires, of the worst natural disaster in Australia's history, of what will be at least 200 dead and thousands homeless.

However, I can almost understand his reluctance to make a prophecy before the event. What was his last public prophecy? Oh yeah, the Canberra Times published this on 30 September 2007:
Nalliah says, "I will boldly declare that Prime Minister John Howard will be re-elected in the November election (if the Body of Christ unites in prayer and action) and pass the leadership on to Peter Costello some time after."
Snort of derision. Piss off home Danny, and shut your pathetic, lying mouth.

And oh yes, I've emailed this post to Catch The Fire ministries. Howdy, boys!

UPDATE: Someone's burning the midnight oil at Catch The Fire. I received this faux-nice, passive-aggressive response a bare thirty minutes after I sent them my link.
May the one true living God bless you Tim with His Saving Truth and Everlasting Love! (John 3:16)
We at Catch the Fire Ministries will keep praying for you to believe the Bible (Word of God) as the mighty Voice from Heaven that calls to you, “Tim, I died on the cross for you and rose from the dead to save you from eternal death, hell and destruction! Repent of your unbelief / doubt and surrender your life (past, present and future) to Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord before it is too late!"

Time is running out as you will soon stand before Him face to face as your Final Judge!

Say, 'Yes to Jesus, Yes to Heaven Forever!'

Say, 'No to Jesus, Yes to Hell Forever!'

Make the Right Choice, Your Eternal Future Depends On It!
Not an auto-mailing - too delayed, too non-generic. A few hints for next time, guys:
* Complete fail on addressing the issues.
* Bright red 16-pont font doesn't convince me you're not a pack of lunatics.
* Random Capitalisation Does Not Convince Anyone You Have a Grasp Of The English Language.
* Please don't pray for me. On the evidence, you need it more than I do.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed"

We all dodged a bullet on this one. Can I just say: HOLY FREAKING CRAP.

The Capital Markets Subcommittee Chair, Rep. Paul Kanjorski of Pennsylvania, tells C-Span how the world economy almost collapsed in a matter of hours.
At 2 minutes, 20 seconds into this C-Span video clip, Kanjorski reports on a "tremendous draw-down of money market accounts in the United States, to the tune of $550 billion dollars." According to Kanjorski, this electronic transfer occured over the period of an hour or two.
Kanjorski: "The Treasury opened its window to help. They pumped a hundred and five billion dollars into the system and quickly realized that they could not stem the tide. We were having an electronic run on the banks. They decided to close the operation, close down the money accounts, and announce a guarantee of $250,000 per account so there wouldn't be further panic and there. And that's what actually happened. If they had not done that their estimation was that by two o'clock that afternoon, five-and-a-half trillion dollars would have been drawn out of the money market system of the United States, would have collapsed the entire economy of the United States, and within 24 hours the world economy would have collapsed."

"It would have been the end of our political system and our economic systems as we know it."
We are not safe, people. Never think that you are safe.

Taken verbatim from BoingBoing, because I have no shame.

Monday, February 9, 2009

State of shock

Worst bushfires in Australian history. 108 dead. Whole towns abandoned and burnt to the ground. Hospitals running out of morphine treating the burns.

And this is just the day after. We don't know the actual number of dead, or the true extent of the damage, yet.

How you can help

To donate to the Red Cross State Government Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund:
* Visit
* Phone 1800 811 700
* Any NAB, ANZ, Westpac or Commonwealth Bank branch
* Any Bunnings store
* By direct deposit to the Victorian Bushfire Relief Fund - BSB 082-001, Account number 860-046-797
Myer Bushfire Appeal
* All proceeds to the Salvation Army. Donate at any Victorian Myer store

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Throw your arms around me

A gem I found browsing YouTube - Neil Finn does an acoustic solo version of the classic "Throw Your Arms Around Me".

Also, Powderfinger's "These Days". This song, and the album "Odyssey Number Five" holds immense personal significance for me. When my father was dying in 2003, I couldn't stop listening to it. Every song seemed like it had been written for me. This song in particular would reduce me to tears, and it still does, every time. Dad died a couple of days after the Canberra 2003 bushfires, and this song was echoing in my head as I drove down to Canberra to try to support my Mum as she thought she was going to lose her house and husband in the same day. I'm dedicating this one to the poor bastards who died yesterday in the Victorian bushfires.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Today's bushfires: a snapshot

NSW today was touted as being the hottest place on Earth, with temperatures reaching 47 celsius in some parts. Apparently the Sahara was having an RDO or something, who knows. So, of course, some retards had to light bushfires, didn't they? Entire towns are being left to burn because firefighters are needed elsewhere. Here's a snapshot of the fire locations as at the last satellite pass, courtesy of Geoscience Australia's Sentinel.