The Destiny of the Universe

… not what the title implies but …

Spam Poetry, harvested from about 530 spam comments on this blog. I keep to my usually dystopian-postmodern genre. Imagine somebody with a British accent reading it, and mentally insert black and white images inspired by Philip K. Dick‘s short stories. Don’t expect to understand it, it is like those highly refined artistic movies – wrapped in several layers of increasingly sophisticated interpretations.

Every line is cut out of a spam comment, no editing allowed except truncating at the beginning or end. For more background and the history of my search term and spam poetry see here.

This time I owe to spammers trying to promote games that obviously involve the violent killing of aliens.

the destiny of the universe

my honest, preconceived thoughts

a great unreal dream
actual irony
when you con the destiny with your artistry

gloomy and cynical futurism
that any mortal should avoid

you arrive from the Victorian England
in the known galaxy

Illustration for Jules Verne's The Mysterious Island, by Jules Férat

dark and cynical sci-fi
forces an illusion
of that time gone by
When skyscrapers were first built

you are not understanding anything

what if i told you
There are undoubtedly more color options nearby

paradigmatic coal-black
started to be repetitive
one of the big deterrents to me

your deprecating coherence
is a potpourri

this type of despicable hypocirite
it will be the future of the human race

handing more control over
lets us progress even deeper into this sci-fi nightmare

armor and weapon
usually do not adhere to regulations
The glare of the goblin sparks partially blinded him.

Artwork for the book The War of the Worlds, Alvim-correa12player in cyberspace
heed your call of duty

I’ll certainly come back
through the dust
or snipe the undead beasts

talk with other mentors
emotionally distraught

men and women dressed in cartoon costumes

The cartoon is attractive
corporate, regal, or fair-minded

these crooks
reported to have ghost activity

space zombies
called Glass Collective
never publicly dated anyone

Put your prowess to evaluation
removing their skin

rapidly rose the reputation
conditional upon the execution

Disgrace on Google
the cosmic horror
We do know these people analyze

NSA Muscular Google CloudNumerous aliens in space will traumatize you
with the fantasy stars
Your toddlers shall like it

none of the visions has borne fruit
as a matter of fact

unsubstantiated distortions
completely ridiculous.

in public areas nevertheless

This cue
the echo
The spring of 24
most is inconsistent

the web
becomes a virtual community
something that we are hoping

i could truthfully do something to be able

Slowly return your head to the original position

Uhmm..

Will there be a part 2?

the last sentence of the page

Transhumanism and the Extended Self

This transhuman and extended post has now transcended all other related posts on gamification. Blogging singularity! But wait… we did not factor in the lawyers!

Cyber Security Satire?

I am a science fiction fan. In particular, I am a fan of movies featuring Those Lonesome Nerds who are capable of controlling this planet’s critical infrastructure – from their gloomy basements.

But is it science fiction? In the year Die Hard 4.0 has been released a classified video has been recorded – showing an electrical generator dying from a cyber attack.

Fortunately, “Aurora” was just a test attack against a replica of a power plant:

Now some of you know that the Subversive El(k)ement calls herself a Dilettante Science Blogger on Twitter.

But here is an epic story to be unearthed, and it would take a novelist to do that. I can imagine the long-winded narrative unfolding – of people who cannot use their showers or toilets any more after the blackout. Of sinister hackers sending their evil commands into the command centers of the intricate blood circulation of our society we call The Power Grid. Of course they use smart meters to start their attack.

Unfortunately my feeble attempts of tipping my toes into novel writing have been crashed before I even got started: This novel does exist already – in German. I will inform you if is has been translated – either to a novel or directly into a Hollywood movie script.

As I am probably not capable of writing a serious thriller anyway I would rather go for dark satire.

Douglas Adams did cover so many technologies in The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy – existing and imagined ones – but he did not elaborate much on intergalactic power transmission. So here is room for satire.

What if our Most Critical Infrastructure would not be attacked by sinister hacker nerds but by our smart systems’ smartness dumbness? (Or their operators’.)

(To all you silent readers and idea grabbers out there: Don’t underestimate the cyber technology I had built into that mostly harmless wordpress.com blog: I know all of you who are reading this and if you are going to exploit this idea on behalf of me I will time-travel back and forth and ruin your online reputation.)

That being said I start crafting the plot:

As Adams probably drew his inspiration from his encounters with corporations and bureaucracy when describing the Vogons and InfiniDim enterprises I will extrapolate my cyber security nightmare from an anecdote:

Consider a programmer (a geek. Sorry for the redundant information!) trying to test his code. (Sorry for the gender stereotype. As a geekess I am allowed to do this. It could be female geek also!)

The geek’s code should send messages to other computers in a Windows domain. “Domain” is a technical term, not some geeky reference to Dominion or the like.  He is using net send. Generation Y-ers and other tablet and smartphone freak: This is like social media status message junk lacking images.

But our geek protagonist makes a small mistake: He does not send the test command to his test computer only – but to “EUROPE”. This does nearly refer to the whole continent, actually it addresses all computers in all European subsidiaries of a true Virtual Cyber Empire.

Fortunately modern IT networks are built on nearly AI powered devices called switches which make the cyber attack petering out at the borders of That Large City.

How could we turn this into a story about an attack on the power grid, adding your typical ignorant non-tech sensationalist writer’s cliched ideas:

  1. A humanoid life-form (or flawed android that tests his emotions chip) is tinkering with sort of a Hello World! command – sent to The Whole World literally.
  2. The attack that is just a glitch, an unfortunate concatenation of events, that is been launched in an unrelated part of the cyber space. E.g. by a command displayed on a hacker’s screen in a Youtube video. Or it was launched from the gas grid.
  3. The Command of Death spreads pandemically over the continent, replicating itself more efficiently than cute cat videos on social networks.
Circuit Breaker 115 kV

Any pop-sci article related to the power grid need to show-off some infrastructure like that (Circuit Breaker, Wikimedia)

I contacted my agent immediately.

Shattering my enthusiasm she told me:

This is not science-fiction – this is simply boring. Something like that happened recently in a small country in the middle of Europe.

According to this country’s news a major power blackout had barely been avoided in May 2013. Engineers needed to control the delicate balance of power supply and demand manually as the power grid’s control system has been flooded with gibberish – data that could not be interpreted.

The alleged originator of these commands was a gas transmission system operator in the neighboring country. This company tested a new control system and tried to poll all of its meters for a status update.  Somehow the command found its way from the gas grid to the European power grid and has been replicated.

_________________________

Update –  Bonus material – making of: For the first time I felt the need to tell this story twice – in German and in English. This is not a translation, rather different versions in parallel universes. German-speaking readers – this is the German instance of the post.

On Time Travelling: Rigorous Categorization of Science Fiction Movies

Do you remember the scary moment when Ashton Cutcher alias Evan recognizes suddenly that his arms are crippled – and that they have been crippled since many years?

This is a scene from The Butterfly Effect: Evan discovers that he is capable of time-travelling to his troubled childhood. He tries to fix the present by changing the course of tragic events in this past – and most of the times the outcome in the present is somewhat unexpected.

I am finally living up to my promise on Dr. Dan’s(*) blog to come up with my musings on the logic of time travelling in movies. [Insert your favorite disclaimer about spoilers here.]
(*)As the future of this post is going to unfold below the reason for this formal address will become clear. Mind the Douglas Adams quote.

Based on thorough and extensive research I came to the conclusion that there are three distinct kinds of time travelling (in movies):

The Butterfly Effect is an example of what I denote as [1] The Immediately Changing Past as Remembered or Not by Conscious Beings, and so is Back to the Future:

Our heroes travel to the past, fuss about the timeline, and travel back to the present: And the present it different from what it had been before starting the round trip. Even more, the present indicates that all the events prior to this moment must have been changed as well. In The Butterfly Effect the reactions of his friends indicate that handicapped Evan has got along well, probably until he ‘suddenly’ re-discovers that he is crippled.

Marty McFly – stuck in 1955 – needs to make sure that his mother and father become a couple ‘again’ despite the mess he had introduced to the old timeline; otherwise Marty would cease to exist. When he is finally back to the future his family has ‘suddenly’ changed from cliché lower class losers to smart cheery middle class high-flyers.

How and if the main characters’ memories have been (will be) aligned with the new timeline is typically not explained in a satisfactory way. Do they remember the other timeline forever (in the future of the future)? Did the old timeline cease to exist or is it preserved merely as a representation in the main character’s mind? Does the representation in mind count as a version of a multiverse?

We need to distinguish this theory about time travel from [2] Twisted and Warped but Yet Fully Causal Timelines which denotes the infamous branching of times while indicating that the previous timeline is still preserved in history.

It can be illustrated by the first Star Trek movie released 2009, featuring the new old crew which is simply called Star Trek:

At the end of the movie we can start the history of the old enterprise crew all over which is a clever move of the movie producers from a commercial perspective. The new timeline can and will never be in line with the ‘original’ plots of the episodes and movies. The Romulan villain as well as Spock had travelled to the past  and created an alternate timeline. Young James T. Kirk asks Spock, the elder, if his (Kirk’s) father was alive in the original timeline (which he was).

As with [1] there are two (or more) distinct timelines but the important distinction is: At any point of time any human being (or alien for that matter) experiences a smooth unfolding of his / her / its personal story. Neither the elder nor the young Spock’s mind is subject to a sudden disruption.

I believe the underlying reason is that the physical and mental identities of all persons involved in [2] remain intact. Time travellers travel as physical beings, but you do not jump right back or forth into your younger self’s body which requires your minds to merge. Evan jumps mentally only – both forward and backwards. Marty jumps to the past physically, but on fast-forwading to the future he sort of merges with the self he left back (in the future) when travelling to the past.

I tag Minority Report as class [2] Fully Causal: John Anderton shows up as a future criminal in the precogs’ crystal ball – yet finally he decides not to commit a crime. But there was no mind-disrupting time travelling. Note that my categorizations does not care about the direction of time-travelling, and I do not distinguish between viewing the alternate timeline (only) in contrast to actively being part of it – as viewing it may be sufficient to introduce a change in the other timeline you are part of.

As you have noted, it is incredibly difficult to speak about time ordering in time travelling scenarios. (By the way Time Ordering is a scientifically rigorously term used in quantum field theory, applied to the quantum mechanical operators that dictate the time evolution of systems.)

Of course it was Douglas Adams who noted wisely in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Vol.2 – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

One of the major problems encountered in time travel is not that of accidentally becoming your father or mother … There is also no problem about changing the course of history … All the important changes have happened before the things they were supposed to change and it all sorts itself out at the end.
The major problem is quite simply one of grammar, and the main work to consult in this is Dr. Dan Streetmentioner’s Time Traveller’s Handbook of 1001 Tense Formations. It will tell you for instance how to describe something that was about to happen to you in the past before you avoided it by time-jumping forward two days in order to avoid it.

I would conclude from this that Douglas Adams adheres to the [3] Predetermined and Eternal Timeline Theory: Even if or exactly because the characters know something about their futures and try to avoid the outcomes at any cost everything turns out exactly as it has been foreseen. This has been demonstrated in the TV series FlashForward. 

As you noted, this post is about movies, not about physics. In physics, special relativity demands that theories are causal which basically means that events in the future can only be influenced by events in the past (More precisely only events in the past lightcone can signal to events in the future lightcone in 4-dimensional space-time). However, a [3] Predetermined Timeline might imply that nothing causes anything else really – events just are and have always been ingrained into the fabric of space-time. It would not matter if we could signal from the future to the past as this is futile anyway.

But only an excessively warped space-time – not a very friendly environment for living beings are we know them, probably close to blackholes – might give a chance of influencing the timeline.

A direct link to the past via such a warped channel is proposed in Deja Vu starring Denzel Washington. We are able to watch the past unfolding real-time in parallel to the present time elapsing. A piece of paper with a note is sent backwards in time and past and present are constantly influencing each other. But I would still argue these are [2] Twisted But Yet Fully Causal Timelines.

Things get messy when Doug travels to the past himself, changes the timeline, rescues the future victim Claire, and dies heroically. But there is still another instance of Doug’s in the ‘present’ in the final scene that now is not aware his is alternative time traveller’s self’s history.

Believe it or not, but there is already an infographic on Wikimedia to explain this by proposing four different timelines – you need to enlarge the full-sized image at the Wikimedia page:

Deja Vu Timeline

This is very similar to the Star Trek movie analyzed above – complication arises due to multiple interactions between the timelines:

Describing the unfolding of event in causal terms, Timeline 1 was the first, and the interaction with the past at the ‘end’ (in the ‘present’) of Timeline 1 triggered Timeline 2 – and onward to Timeline 3 and 4 in the same way. So the whole universe is walking through these four timelines – or the observer is made aware of four parallel universes, each of them equipped with an eternal timeline that cannot be modified. If the latter is true, you should really not meet yourself in an alternate timeline or space-time will collapse. So the causal consistency of [2] in contrast to [1] comes with its risks.

In a similar way to the twisted plot of Deja Vu, the old enterprise crew has boldly gone where no man has gone before as we witnessed in the 1970s on black and white TV sets. Then the Romulan Nero and the elder Spock travelled from to past (from the perspective of bold old episodes and the 2009 movie this was / is the future) to meet the elder Kirk and the younger Kirk – both time travellers have interacted with the past at different times – very similar to the Deja Vu approach.

Every timeline-crossing event kicks off  a new timeline. In the most ‘causally recent’ Timeline 3 both entities of Spock do coexist of did two versions of Doug in Deja Vu – thus I tag Deja Vu as a class [2] movie, but the categorization should maybe be enriched with tags for complexity.

I owe to the members of the IMDB discussion board who started to discuss this movie – released in 2006 – a few days ago. What a coincidence. Even scarier than the spacefolding surveillance technology is the fact that members discuss the applicability of this tool to current investigations in Boston and that they watch the movie again right now because of the terrorist attack.

Most likely we need to do more research and setup a global project in order to come up with better categories and standards for time travel movies: This collection of the Top 10 Time Travel Movies is a starting point.

And I did not even mention the movie that has the closest resemblance to our daily lives. Groundhog Day does probably not qualify as an SF / time travel movie because looped structure of space-time is too realistic and too familiar.

Edit: I have just stumbled upon this on Google Plus – the definitive chart including many popular time travel movies:
All Time Travel Movies Explained in One Awesome Infographic and here is an update by the creator of that said chart.

Work Hard – Play Hard

There is indeed a ‘corporate culture’ named like this. Trusting Wikipedia on this:

In their 1984  [sic!] book, Corporate Cultures, Deal and Kennedy identified a particular corporate culture which they called the ‘work hard/play hard culture’:

“Fun and action are the rule here, and employees take few risks, all with quick feedback; to succeed, the culture encourages them to maintain a high level of relatively low-risk activity.

The book is called a classic in business literature by an amazon reviewer; so I am not surprised Work Hard/Play Hard  is one of four quadrants – based on the combination of risk and feedback. If you really want to know: The high risk / intense feedback culture is called the Tough-Guy Macho Culture.

Why I am really interested in this: Work Hard – Play Hard is also a sublime German documentary I have just watched accidentally.

Here is the trailer, with English subtitles, that captures the atmosphere quite well. I could only find the full video  in German or French although the links to film festivals (below) imply that a version with English subtitles does exist.

It is not a Michael Moore movie. There is no voice from the off that will explain anything. It is people and buildings, speaking for themselves. Aesthetic buildings and sleek design, however not as vibrant and colored as you might expect from articles on Google’s offices.

If this were a fictional movie, you would expect it to be set in a parallel world with a dark secret tied to technology:

All alleged human beings would be artificial life forms or clones created by the last survivors of a cyberpunk apocalypse – who happened to haven’t saved anything but their MBA courses’ lecture notes before their embarked on their lifeboat-spaceship and left the earth to found a new civilization. Or the protagonists might also be ants that have acquired some level of intelligence – so we see The Fly in a reversed version – but they struggle to find a real narrative or myth for their culture, just as Data wants to become a human being by tinkering with the emotion chip.

Their world remains grayed out and a diluted holodeck-like copy, and as a disengaged observer you tried to find the fault in the matrix. At least you believe you are disengaged – watching TV in your minimalistic concrete-and-glass hotel, relaxing during your business trip and checking your smartphone.

I found the role of background sounds most intriguing – low and perfectly normal sounds like phones and keyboards, but disturbing like HAL’s voice and the phone at the agency in 24 – all mixed with slightly unpleasant ‘music’ that sounds what I expect tinnitus to be like.

But I better leave it to the professionals – the following reviews are spot-on:

Work Hard – Play Hard is a well-conceived and aesthetically refined contribution to the debate about the future of work in postindustrial society: Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ meets psychological science fiction in a reality where many spend half of their waking lives [Copenhagen International Documentary Festival 2011]

A measured and brilliantly crafted documentary, Work Hard, Play Hard is a remarkably assured debut film from Carmen Losmann. Focusing on changing perceptions of the workplace the film mixes a clinically precise tone with a social conscience and some dark satire. [Helsinki International Film Festival 2012, quoting Laurence Boyce, Screen Daily]