SF: Old Gems and Older Duds

I’ve been reading Spacehounds of IPC (1947), by E.E. “Doc” Smith, and… it hasn’t aged well. For a long time I’ve been thinking it would be fun to read Smith’s Lensmen series again, but given that I’m having a hard time finishing Spacehounds, maybe that train left the station some time ago (especially with so much other stuff to read).

It’s a pity because I sure liked those books when I was (much) younger. Smith wrote action-filled space opera that was very imaginative and which also reeked of technology and science. I’ve never been that much into the space battles, but I’ve always been a sucker for hard SF. Fictionalized tech manuals work okay for me.

But these aren’t the gems mentioned in the post’s title.

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Virtual Reality

I’ve seen objections that simulating a virtual reality is a difficult proposition. Many computer games, and a number of animated movies, illustrate that we’re very far along — at least regarding the visual aspects. Modern audio technology demonstrates another bag of tricks we’ve gotten really good at.

The context here is not a reality rendered on screen and in headphones, but one either for plugged-in biological humans (à la The Matrix) or for uploaded human minds (à la many Greg Egan stories). Both cases do present some challenges.

But generating the virtual reality for them to exist in really isn’t all that hard.

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It Goes to the Nationals!

Well that turned out to be some World Series! The Washington Nationals go from Wildcard to winning it all — their first World Series win as a team!

So congrats to the Nats!

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Blocking the Universe

Recently I had a debate with someone who was downright evangelical about the Block Universe (BU) being, absolutely, positively, the way things are. Because Special Relativity. In particular because of what SR says about simultaneity between inertial frames.

Up to that point I’d never given the BU a great deal of thought other than to file it under «Probably Not the Case» (for reasons I’ll get to). But during my morning walks I’ve turned it over in my mind, and after due consideration,… I still think it’s probably not the case.

I get why people feel SR seems to imply a BU, but I don’t see the necessity of that implication. In fact, it almost seems contrary to a basic tenant of SR, that “now” is strictly a local concept.

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Physical vs Abstract

Maybe it’s a life-long diet of science fiction, but I seem to have written some trilogy posts lately. This post completes yet another, being the third of a triplet exploring the differences between physical objects and numeric models of those objects. [See Magnitudes vs Numbers and Real vs Simulated for the first two in the series.]

The motivation for the series is to argue against a common assertion of computationalism that numeric models are quintessentially the same as what they model. Note that these posts do not argue against computationalism, but against the argument conflating physical and numeric systems.

In fact, this distinction doesn’t argue against computationalism at all!

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Real vs Simulated

Indulging in another round of the old computationalism debate reminded me of a post I’ve been meaning to write since my Blog Anniversary this past July. The debate involves a central question: Can the human mind be numerically simulated? (A more subtle question asks: Is the human mind algorithmic?)

An argument against is the assertion, “Simulated water isn’t wet,” which makes the point that numeric simulations are abstractions with no physical effects. A common counter is that simulations run on physical systems, so the argument is invalid.

Which makes no sense to me; here’s why…

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The Playfair Cipher

Code master Wheatstone

Among my second tier interests are murder mysteries, detective stories, and cryptography. The first typically includes the second, but there are many detective stories that don’t involve murder. Two of my favorite detectives, Spenser (by Robert B. Parker) and V.I. Warshawski (by Sara Paretsky), often have cases not involving murder.

The third interest I listed, cryptography, doesn’t usually coincide with the first two, but it did play a role in a recent locked-room murder mystery involving the delightful amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey (by Dorothy L. Sayers). While I’ve always enjoyed secret codes, I’d never heard of the cipher Sayers used — the Playfair cipher.

It dates back to 1854, and is kind of cool, so I thought I’d share it.

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NCIS: On Very Thin Ice

Maybe it’s expecting too much that a TV series remain in your heart for 17 seasons. I still enjoy The Simpsons (starting its 31st season) and South Park (starting its 23rd season), but both the cartoon format and the nature of those shows gives them a lot of latitude in exploring new ideas while remaining true to the show.

A drama, like NCIS, which I’ve rated as my favorite TV show for well over a decade, is more restricted. It’s harder for a drama to find new ground while remaining true to its nature. That can lead to stagnation, viewer fatigue, or, in some cases, “jumping the shark.”

Which is all to say I’m very disappointed in NCIS, season 17.

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MN Twins in Postseason!

For the first time since I became a dedicated fan in 2010, my Minnesota Twins are in postseason! They did win a Wildcard spot in 2017, and then lost to the Yankees in the single Wildcard game (damn Yankees). That was after having their worst season in franchise history in 2016. (They lost 103 games and finished last in the MLB.)

But now, as in 2010, they’re going to first official postseason round, the ALDS. And, also as in 2010, they’ll face their arch nemesis, those damned Yankees. Nine years ago the “Bronx Bummers” took us out 1-2-3. Those bummers also took us out of postseason in 2003, 2004, & 2009.

So I’m thinking it’s high time we turn that around!

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Scalzi: Redshirts

I just finished reading Redshirts, by John Scalzi, and it’s just about the best, most entertaining, brilliant story I’ve read in a good long time. It’s so good that I have to place it with other best-of-kind laugh out loud science fiction delights such as Galaxy Quest and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

It has a lot in common with Galaxy Quest in being a multi-level utterly ingenious send up and hysterical deconstruction of Star Trek (The Original Series). Scalzi has captured and lampshaded so many of the things fans have discussed over the years. And, as with Galaxy Quest, it’s a pretty good story all on its own.

But it is an absolute must-read for any fan of the original Star Trek.

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