Monthly Archives: November 2008

Star Trek Computer Nonesense

In my last post, I made mention of a certain science fiction franchise’s computer and how powerful it is. Perhaps “powerful” isn’t the right word. Maybe the words “unbelievably omnipotent and god-like” is more accurate when you think about the following examples of utterly amazing things the Star Trek computer has done over the years. Forget phasers, transporters and faster than light speed travel, the ship’s computer is the most non-realistic technology in Star Trek.

1. Recognizing when people aren’t talking to it – when I think of voice recognition software, I think of this:
Skip to 2:00 to see the computer befuddled by the word YouTube
or
Skip to 0:27 to avoid the stupid report’s lame jokes
or
Skip to 0:15 for the specific example of voice recognition

IF it works at all, it is because the person is talking very slowly and deliberately and with a monotone voice. On Star Trek however, not only can people just talk in their regular voice at a normal pace but they may even speak in NOT their normal voice and at an accelerated pace:
GO DATA!!!
Most of the time, the characters have to say the word “computer” before issuing it commands but they never have a “stop listening” type of command after they are done. They go on having a conversation with another character in the room or even over the communications system (run by the computer) and the computer seems to recognize the fact that they are no longer addressing it. Hell, the human brain can’t even do that all the time!!!

2. Replace the crew –
Yeah it’s long but it’s a good example
In this (admittedly long) clip you see two “people” trying desperately to do things like stop the ship, move the ship and fire the weapons by pressing the buttons on the consoles. Their lack of experience makes each action complicated and laborious. Eventually, they accidentally initiate a program wherein the ship simply reacts to their orders and moves, maneuvers and fires at specific targets. What kind of sick joke are all those buttons if the ship can literally be told what to do at any time? And it can understand the designated target of “Romulans” and pick one of the several Romulan ships around itself instead of asking for further input from the user (ie. Which one? Where on the ship should I target? How many shots should I fire? Do you want me to fire a phaser or torpedo? etc.) Granted, the Prometheus is a prototype but there have been plenty of times throughout the franchise where the computers on the Enterprises have initiated actions based simply on voice commands. Examples include laying in a course, engaging the warp drive, firing at targets, etc. etc.

3. Generating evolutionary products with no information – The following is a transcript (couldn’t find the video) from Episode 65 “Distant Origin”. In this scene the Doctor has discovered that an alien species may have a distant relationship to dinosaurs on Earth millions of years ago.

[Holodeck]
EMH: I’ve entered the genetic markers into the holo-database.
JANEWAY: Let’s see if we can find our closet relative. Computer, analyse the genetic markers and search Earth’s fossil record. Identify any ancestors common to both humans and the alien in sickbay.
COMPUTER: Life form found.
JANEWAY: Display.
COMPUTER: Genus Eryops. Devonian Era.
EMH: Eryops. This creature lived over four hundred million years ago and is thought to be the last common ancestor of cold blooded and warm blooded organisms.
JANEWAY: Yes, yes. Let’s take the next step in out little stroll. Computer, what’s the most highly evolved cold-blooded organism to develop from the Eryops?
COMPUTER: Genus Hadrosaur. Cretaceous Era.
JANEWAY: Display the life form. As I recall, the Hadrosaur vanished when a mass extinction occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period. What if the Hadrosaur didn’t die off? What if some of them survived that extinction, and continued to evolve?
EMH: I could well imagine this creature giving rise to a more complex life form. Certainly the building blocks are there. Bipedal, grasping hands.
JANEWAY: Computer, run a genome projection algorithm. If the Hadrosaur had continued to evolve over the last sixty five million years, extrapolate the most probable appearance.
COMPUTER: Extrapolation complete.

WHAT????? The computer has an algorithm for 65 MILLION years of evolution?? And can reduce it down to “the most probable”? In this episode it turns out these dinosaurs actually developed space travel and rocketed off to the Delta Quadrant of the universe over those millions of years and the computer still managed to produce an image that looked similar to the aliens they met that day. In other words, the computer managed to figure that these dinosaurs becoming a space faring species during the Cretaceous period WAS the most probable course of evolution!! Either that, or the evolutionary development of this species, despite being done completely on board a space ship for the time it would take to find an inhabitable planet and then from then on, was EXACTLY THE SAME as if they had never left Earth to begin with!

Then again, maybe the computer was just humoring Capt. Janeway and showing her what she wanted to see:

JANEWAY: Computer, run a genome projection algorithm. If the Hadrosaur had continued to evolve over the last sixty five million years, extrapolate the most probable appearance.
COMPUTER THINKING: Oh my god… is she serious?? Does she have any idea how ridiculously impossible that would be? Well… I can’t look stupid. Let’s see. We recently encountered an alien species that she thinks is related to these dinosaurs. I’ll just draw one of those and adjust the arm length.
COMPUTER: Extrapolation complete.
COMPUTER THINKING: She looks happy. Phewf!

4. Can make life with a simple miswording – In the episode “Elementary, Dear Data” Data, LaForge and Dr. Pulaski decide to play around the holodeck in a Sherlock Holmes inspired story. After witnessing the ease at which Data solves the first few mysteries, Pulaski (who has some kind of personal quest to kill Data’s dream of becoming human and is constantly trying to prove he’ll always be just a machine and is incapable of actual deductive reasoning. Seriously, not to get off on a tangent here but what is her problem with Data? Did he flush his internal lubricant in her Romulan Corn Flakes one day?) bets Geordi he won’t be able to solve a new mystery (ie. one that isn’t from one of the existing Holmes novels). In their haste to create a new mystery, they forgot they were dealing with the monsterous capabilities of the ship’s computer and accidentally create a sentient being within the holodeck. Yeah… the computer, with a little wordplay (in this case “create an adversary capable of defeating Data”) will assume the user wants it to spawn a WHOLE NEW FORM OF LIFE and simply dim the lights on the ship for a couple of seconds while it does it.

Later on in the franchise, in the episode of Voyager “Message in a Bottle” (mentioned earlier) Harry Kim and Tom Paris desperately try to create a new holographic doctor but can’t seem to get around the whole self-awareness issue. Too bad they didn’t do their research cause they could’ve just said, “Make a doctor capable of defeating Data” and presto!

These are just a few of the more ludicrous examples that I thought of. I’m sure there’s more. I’m also sure these functions and abilities may not ALWAYS be unrealistic
. There may come a day that, like the creation of the microprocessor, will revolutionize computers making our current hardware look like a stone spear. However, considering a person has to create/program a computer to do these things it’s pretty unreasonable to assume anything like this will be possible anytime soon.

And for the record, I love Star Trek. It’s a great franchise. Kim and I watch it on a daily basis! I knit-pick because I love.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the new movie coming out soon after which we will probably be posting some reviews.

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This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard…and that’s saying something

The Careleton University students’ association has decided that they are canceling any further fund-raising drives for cystic fibrosis. There is an annual charity drive called Shinerama that universities put on and every year they raise thousands of dollars. I used to do it every year when I was in undergrad — BBQs, giving out balloons, standing on the street in the rain with someone duct-taped to a pole…good times. Sometimes we’d have speakers with cystic fibrosis come talk to us beforehand, and it was very moving. They were my age and their life span was almost up.

So why is Carleton doing this? Cystic fibrosis is a disease that affects only white males…apparently. So it’s not inclusive enough to warrant their attention. Apparently they only want to fund-raise for non-racist diseases. [Edit for clarity: They want to fund-raise for charities that are representative of their student population. So, white guys at the school be damned. Good luck finding a disease with the exact minority distribution of your school. Brilliant.]

First, that’s not even true. Lots of people who are not white males have cystic fibrosis. Unless those female speakers at our school secretely had penises…

Second, even if it was true, why does a white male disease deserve no attention? Does that mean that people shouldn’t raise money for prostate cancer research, for example, either? Ridiculous. So because of our culture of “inclusiveness” (now to the point of absurdity), white males don’t deserve inclusion in anything. Right, that makes sense.

Carleton students should be ashamed of themselves. Ok, it’s their prerogative if they want to fund-raise for a charity they are more interested in, but to drop a charity because they think it’s for white males is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. This runaway political correctness garbage has to stop somewhere (particularly if it’s erroneous) and I hope the students’ association either reverses its decision or swiftly picks up another charity — and not just because the disease was nice enough to affect minorities and women as well, but because the charity might actually benefit from some money. Like cystic fibrosis does because it’s not AIDS, cancer, diabetes, or heard disease.

UPDATE: The university student council is reportedly reconsidering their decision, although their use of language still implies that they simply don’t get why everyone got so pissed off. It’s not that they dropped the charity, it’s why they dropped the charity. People aren’t “offended”, people think they’re stupid. Or perhaps their continued lack of language skills illustrates why this was such a pickle in the first place…

Mojo’s first post

Mojo has made his first post over at Nerdgasmx. I have cross-posted some of it here with a link to the rest after the fold.

Hello there!

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my very first entry in the already overcrowded series of tubes that is the blogosphere. And thanks again to Kim for letting me share her piece of cyberspace pie that is Nergasmx/Skeptigirl. I hope to live up to her expectations and hopefully entertain or enlighten you folks with my various witty observations and/or serious commentaries.

I share many things with Kim: Food, an apartment, a life. I also share her passionate stance on subjects like the separation of church and state, anti-intellectualism in the media and the discrimination of atheists by mainstream society. In addition, we both share a fondness for video games, science fiction, cartoons and comics. Hopefully Nerdgasmx can provide a small portion of comic relief from the more serious topics devoted to Skeptigirl (to which I may also feel inclined to add from time to time).

As a means of getting to know me better and making a good first impression (sometimes those two are mutually exclusive!), I thought an appropriate topic would be a 581 part series about famous nerds you should respect. People like to say nerds do get a lot of respect these days but we all know we still get made fun of. Hopefully this series will serve to make us all more proud to be nerds!

Read the rest of this post over at Nerdgasmx!

Nerd of the Week – Mojo's big premiere!

“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” – Old Kingon Proverb.

Hello there!

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my very first entry in the already overcrowded series of tubes that is the blogosphere. And thanks again to Kim for letting me share her piece of cyberspace pie that is Nergasmx/Skeptigirl. I hope to live up to her expectations and hopefully entertain or enlighten you folks with my various witty observations and/or serious commentaries.

I share many things with Kim: Food, an apartment, a life. I also share her passionate stance on subjects like the separation of church and state, anti-intellectualism in the media and the discrimination of atheists by mainstream society. In addition, we both share a fondness for video games, science fiction, cartoons and comics. Hopefully Nerdgasmx can provide a small portion of comic relief from the more serious topics devoted to Skeptigirl (to which I may also feel inclined to add from time to time).

As a means of getting to know me better and making a good first impression (sometimes those two are mutually exclusive!), I thought an appropriate topic would be a 581 part series about famous nerds you should respect. People like to say nerds do get a lot of respect these days but we all know we still get made fun of. Hopefully this series will serve to make us all more proud to be nerds!

For the purposes of this series, the following definition of “nerd” will be used. Anyone fitting this definition can be included on this list.

nerd
Pronunciation: \nərd\
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps from nerd, a creature in the children’s book If I Ran the Zoo (1950) by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)
Date: 1951
: an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person ; especially : one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits

Source: the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary

First up, Batman/Bruce Wayne.

Oh yes that’s right. Batman is a huge nerd. Yeah he’s a big, tough, invincible ninja but think about it:

While he is never depicted as unattractive he does run around in tights and a cape which is pretty unstylish. Socially inept also gets a huge check in the box since he never has time to have a real relationship beyond his “ward”, Robin. He is pretty much a psychological mess of a human and doesn’t seem to be interested in the opposite sex in any way. As for the slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits, consider the following:

Computers/Gadgets: As a rule, nerds tend to want to have the most powerful computers on the marketplace and tend to be very skilled with them. Well nothing tops Batman’s computer. (Maybe the Star Trek computer… but I’ll discuss that at a later date). He’s been seen hacking huge databases within about 20 seconds, manipulating encrypted sites, and generally proving to be an expert in all things computers. He’s also pretty dependent on them which is a typical nerd quality. Granted he has Lucius Fox to head up the development of his gadgets but using them/repairing them still requires some kind of devotion to nerd pursuits.

Scientist: “Batman is a scientist.” – Homer Simpson. What’s nerdier than being a scientist? Science = nerd in almost everyone’s mind. I don’t care how many times you can wrestle Killer Croc to the ground, if you are good at chemistry you are a nerd. And Batman is damn good at chemistry.

Genius level IQ: Consider that one of his main enemies is The Riddler whose only real “power” that makes him dangerous is his impressive mental acumen. Unfortunately for Riddler, he set up his base of operations in a city protected by the smartest person in the world. Batman consistently foils the most complicated schemes with good old fashioned smarts. You don’t get that smart overnight. He must have had some impressive learnin’ in between sparring sessions!

So there you have it. Definitive proof that not all nerds are weak or timid like people think. I hope to bring you more examples of respectful nerds in the future but I think Batman serves as a pretty good example of a nerd that has reached respected or even “cool” status while still fitting the definition above.

Hope you like my first article!! Thanks for reading!

Happy Anniversary!

Today the Origin of Species (oh, that was by that Charles Darwin chap, by the way) is 149 years old. First published in 1859, that book helped revolutionize biology et al for 150 years. Currently it is every creationist’s excuse as to why evolution is wrong because the theory obviously hasn’t changed in 150 years, especially not to include genetics and all of the other subsequent findings about genetics, environmental influences, etc.

So to all of you evolutionary biologists out there, have a drink for Darwin!

And remember, next year on 12 February is the 150th Darwin Day. So beat people to the stores and buy your Darwin Day presents and decorations early. We’ll be doing the traditional bobbing for genes, pin the vestigial appendage on the organism, and the Most Science-y Beard contest.

Coooooool

This meteorite exploded over Saskatchewan last week. Coolest thing ever (although kudos to that driver for not shitting themselves and then going off the road).

Defending 300

This was originally posted on Skeptigirl:

I’m going to talk about the movie 300 (don’t read if you don’t want spoilers – you’ve been warned). I hear a lot of criticisms of this movie along the lines of:

* it’s unrealistic
* it’s “socially irresponsible”
* it’s like a commercial for steroids

Many people take issue with details like the hugeness of Xerxes, the amount of Persian troops, the toughness and ab-ness of the Spartans, and the bloody barbarianism that’s depicted throughout the story.

I have the following response that solves all of these problems. Ok get ready everyone. I want all the critics who say these things to pay attention to this one little, but very important detail:

The movie is from the perspective of a Spartan telling a war story. Gasp!

Leonitis, and this is sort of the crux of the whole movie, sends one of his men (Dilios) back to Sparta to tell the tale of their battle. We don’t find out until the end, but he has been narrating the whole movie and that is why. Because he’s telling the epic tale of their battle.

So yes, of course the movie is totally unrealistic, but if you were telling tales of a great battle for posterity (and to convince your government to go to war) wouldn’t you want the enemy to look as ridiculously grandiose as possible? It’s a much better story for 300 people to have beaten thousands of the best fighters Persia has to offer than to be like: “Yeah, they sent in like 500 guys because they didn’t take us seriously and then we beat them, but then they brought out the archers and everyone died”. It makes the Persians ultimately look weak if only 300 guys can beat the best Persia has and the Persians have to ultimately “cheat” (with help from the “monster”) and waste a lot of resources (arrows) to defeat them.

Think of an old guy telling a fishing story and describing the size of the fish – similar principle. Make the story sound as awesome as possible so the protagonists come off as the biggest heroes possible. And in the case of convincing the government to do something, make the enemy sound as formidable but as ultimately defeatable as possible. Ooh ooh! Better example – Iraq. The terrorists are horrible, blew up WTC, but we’ll get them if we just become scary evangelicals? Familiar? There you go.

Also, hello, there are frigging mythical creatures in the movie. Obviously there is some artistic license going on from the storyteller (Dilios) to make the story more interesting.

So fault the movie’s dialogue, fault the effects, fault it for being sepia-toned, I dunno, but don’t fault it for plot points that are explained by the context of the story.