Apr 15, 2012

Encyclopedia of Future Science

With Google Knol closing down I finally transferred "Collaborative fiction writing using wiki technology" to a blog.

Due to technical problems beyond my control, I also ended up creating a companion site, The Encyclopedia of Future Technology and Science. The Encyclopedia is a guide for writing stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe.

Rather than just leave one lonely post on the new blog, I went ahead and copied the posts from this blog to the Exodemic blog. I also copied Moon Hammer into the new blog, which gave me a chance to read the story a couple of years after having written it. When I wrote Moon Hammer I was in a rush to complete the story before the LCROSS impact on the Moon.

Upon re-reading Moon Hammer I now have an idea for how to update the story and move it to the year 2013. Isaac Asimov wrote about the "tricks" that can be used to make better stories. Asimov was an expert at making "surprise" endings. For example, at the end of Second Foundation, it is revealed that the Second Foundation is located on Trantor and is being led by a character from the story who Asimov portrayed through the bulk of the story as having a completely different role. I've decided that I can use a similar trick to provide a "trick" ending for Moon Hammer.

Apr 7, 2012

Passionately Curious

"Was Einstein a Space Alien?" This idea was the basis of a throw-away-line in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, when an Earthling says about the aliens, "Einstein was probably one of them."

For stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe it is fun to imagine that some folks who pass as Earthlings might actually be visitors to this world. If Einstein had been a tool for space aliens, a conduit for providing humanity with a few scientific ideas, how would we know? What if a few ideas were given to Einstein without him even knowing the source of those ideas? In the story Cellular Civilization, a "junior Einstein" is recruited into a secret technology development project by visitors from another world.

Isaac Asimov used a similar plot device in his novel The End of Eternity. A central plot element in Asimov's time travel novel is a hidden message in old copies of a printed journal (possibly Time magazine). In the story, we see "ancient" print media from the perspective of a future time when most people have never seen words printed on paper. Asimov imagined that the course of human civilization could be completely altered by having a time traveler from the future "give" the idea of nuclear power to a primitive Earthling at a time far before nuclear power would otherwise have become possible.

There are countless science fiction stories that involve taking advanced technology back in time, resulting in a new "Reality", a new timeline for Earthly history. In The End of Eternity Asimov also plays around with ways to prevent specific technologies from being developed. Near the start of the novel a time traveler prevents the development of a new spaceship propulsion method.

One of the first science fiction novels I ever read was The Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd. I've long imagined a prequel to this novel that tells the story of the first time travel mission. I assume that in the original timeline of Earth, the Roman Empire dominated the world. A time traveler is sent back to Roman times with the knowledge of how to make small, cheap, light-weight and powerful crossbows. This time traveler goes to Crete and trains an army of crossbowmen who fight against the Roman army in early imperial times. This creates the world depicted by Boyd in The Last Starship from Earth. Of course, I'd give the plot of the prequel an "exodemic twist"

Google Books: Ngram Viewer

In the graph, above, the green line at the bottom is the frequency of the term "space alien" in books as a function of time. In the graph shown below, "space alien" (red) is compared to "endosymbiont".

For stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe I like to imagine that there might be nanoscopic artificial lifeforms that can reside in human bodies as endosymbionts. Maybe we all have an alien visitor inside our body, but we do not have the required tools to detect this alien influence.

In the graph above, it can be seen that "extraterrestrial" is a more popular term than "space alien". For stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe, "extraterrestrial" and "space alien" are NOT synonymous. I had to create a new term, "Genesaunt", to refer to lifeforms that originated on Earth, but now reside off of Earth. A "real space alien" can trace its origin back to life that arose on some planet other than Earth. The classification system can get messy if there are alien lifeforms living as endosymbionts inside human brains.

So maybe Einstein was not a space alien, but how do we know that space aliens did not have nanoscopic devices inside his brain, guiding his thought patterns in odd directions, towards new ideas that humanity might otherwise only have stumbled upon ten, twenty or a hundred years later? If Einstein was unusually curious about the nature of physical reality, we can ask what motivated him to ask questions and think in new directions that most people could not even imagine. In the Contact television series, I imagine that an alien visitor to Earth (Dr. Wye) makes use of Earthlings such as Kate Robinson as convenient targets for the transfer of knowledge about advanced technologies. Dr. Wye works closely with Kate Robinson and helps guide her thinking in the right direction, allowing Kate to make new discoveries about "Machine" technology, the advanced technology from the "message from Vega".

In the Contact movie, Ellie Arroway is made to imagine that she traveled to the center of the galaxy. In the Contact television series, Earthlings are given scientific and technological assistance by Dr. Wye, allowing Ellie to actually start traveling through space. The alien civilization that gave rise to Dr. Wye is located near the center of the galaxy. Dr. Wye eventually arranges for Ellie to visit the planet where Dr. Wye came into existence. Dr. Wye is an artificial lifeform composed of nanoscopic components rather than cells. Dr. Wye makes use of "nanites" to alter human brain function and lead people like Kate and Ellie towards understanding of advanced alien technology.

Contact television video teaser

Contact television series.....
Contact Episode 1: Pull the Plug
Contact Episode 2: Good to Go
Contact Episode 3: Voice from the Sky
Contact Episode 4: Hail to Vega
Contact Episode 5: Look Closer

Apr 1, 2012

Find Your Way Home

Episode 6 of the Contact television series brings Carl Sagan into the story, but then he wanders off stage again until episode 12. In episode 7 the story returns to Ellie, who was last seen at the end of Episode 5 returning to her research team at the VLA in New Mexico. Now it is Ellie's turn to "wander off stage".....and by the end of Episode 7 she has left Earth, never to return.

The SETI team in New Mexico has been trying to detect hierion-based communications signals originating from worlds beyond the Solar System. Nobody can understand why it is that hierion signals are only detected coming from Earth and the Moon unless hierion-based communication is simply a secret invention of Hadden Industries.

At this time, Ellie is not feeling good. There are Interventionist and Overseer nanites in her brain that are trying to execute conflicting instructions.

Palmer and Ellie are frequently in contact by telephone. Palmer finally convinces Ellie that she should take a vacation. They go hiking and enjoy a cabin in the mountains. The cabin has only one room, but a stunning view of a wild valley. After a week together in the wilderness they decide that they need to find a way to stay together.

When they get back to civilization Palmer is wanted at the White House and Ellie has been invited to join the crew of Atlantis on the follow-up mission to the Moon. Ellie agrees to move to Washington until the President's term is complete. Palmer repeats his request: "You find your way home."

On the Moon, the crew of Atlantis is able to enter the now-abandoned Observer Base. Mysteriously, the airlock door, previously sealed shut, is now open. The inside of the base has been seen previously: when Sagan was on the Moon there were still some Observers living at the base, but now it looks stripped down and barren. Concerned about the possible presence of alien life forms, the crew of Atlantis performs tests, but they can't even find a single microbe in the large underground base. The base has a great supply of water, energy and air, all provided by technology that is similar to what was in the "message from Vega" and used to build the Machine.

It is estimated that about 20,000 people could live and work inside Moon Base Alpha, except for the problem of keeping them fed. Most of the homes do not have kitchens or dining rooms.

Ellie is particularly fascinated by one of the residential complexes. It is a large area under a dome roof with soil. The soil has a high level of small organic molecules, but no macromolecules and nothing alive. The dome's environmental control system simulates a 24 hour day-night cycle. While exploring the dome Ellie is astounded to find that one of the houses looks exactly like the house that she grew up in. Inside, she finds all the correct furnishing, including her ham radio and her telescope.

The oldest part of the underground city is a distinctly different complex. This is the part of the base seen previously when Dr. Zelter came to the Moon to meet with the other Overseers. However, now it is just an empty shell. The environmental controls do not allow the lights to be shut off and the lighting is a strange pink color. The residences here do not even have bed rooms. Ellie is amazed to find a residence that is identical to the cabin that she and Palmer stayed in during their recent vacation. This version of the cabin has a window that provides a view of the surface of the Moon.

Ellie spends the night in her room in the copy of her childhood home and she is visited by Hadden who uses special nanites from Dr. Wye to clear the Overseer nanites from Ellie's brain. She dreams of her father: "This is just one step. In time you'll take another."

She wakes up and sees Hadden (confused): "Mr. Hadden? Where am I?"
Hadden sits by the window, looking at the display of stars on the dome/roof outside: "Your little room has one hell of a view. Let me show you something."

Hadden shows Ellie the Overseer nanites that were taken out of her body and just a small pile of dust. With the Overseer nanites removed from her brain, Ellie can now remember her attempts on Earth to find a way to remove the nanites from her body.

Hadden: "I've freed you from these nanites, so now you can remember, but if you go back to Earth then Dr. Zelter will simply take control of your mind again. You can keep this base free of Overseer nanites."
Ellie: How?
Hadden (places his hand on the telescope): "I'll give you a hint. Use this on every ship that comes up from Earth. This Base is yours now, use it well."
Ellie: "You are suggesting that I stay here?"
Hadden: "You will."
Hadden dissolves.

Ellie wonders if she is dreaming. She hears sounds coming from the ham radio. She sits down at the radio and it morphs into a fancy version of the hierion communications equipment that they have been using previously. The holographic interface engulfs her and now she realizes that she can select additional "bands" and she can finally detect other sources of hierion signals besides just the Earth and the Moon. Suddenly she is in contact with Dr. Wye.
Wye: "These are my gifts to you, Dr. Arroway. Use them wisely."
Ellie: "What are all these signals?"
Wye: "You're the astronomer, you'll figure it out."
Ellie: "This haze, it looks like the milky way."
Wye (gestures to one source in a cluster of signals): "Yes. Here in the galactic core is my home world."
Ellie: "You're an alien?"
Wye: "Yes, but I'm not allowed to tell you that. And you won't be allowed to tell anyone else."
Ellie: "But others need to know-"
Wye: "This is just one step. In time you'll take another."
The communication from Wye ends.

The crew of Atlantis cannot find the source of hierions at the Base. It seems to be a transmitter that is built into the wall/roof of the Base with no human access.

When Atlantis departs, Ellie refuses to go back to Earth. She establishes an observatory at Moon Base Alpha. She works aligning the signals from the new hierion detector with known astronomical data. Some of the signals seem to come from our galaxy, but most of the signals come from other galaxies. She starts trying to decode the signals.

After a period of time during which Ellie is alone on the Moon, the Inspiration arrives, newly fitted out with a V3 antimatter propulsion system. The mini rotating rings system now supplies hierion fuel that can be used as propulsion mass, being generated as needed by the rings and heated by a stored supply of antimatter. The old shuttle fuel tanks are no longer needed and have been replaced. Inspiration arrives carrying a large amount of dehydrated food and seeds.

Ellie and Palmer on the Moon
Palmer also arrives on board the Inspiration. He explains to Ellie that the President wanted a member of his advising staff on the Moon. Ellie shows him the "cabin".
Palmer says: "You found your way home."

Ellie's telescope contains Dr. Wye's magnetic pulse generator for inactivating nanites. She uses it on everything and everyone that comes into Moon Base Alpha. When the nanites inside Palmer are inactivated, he can also remember Ellie's previous attempts to remove nanites from her body. They find that they can discuss nanites together, but cannot tell other people about nanites. They suspect (correctly) that they might still be infected by additional nanites that cannot be inactivated by a powerful magnetic field.

Ellie tries to contact Dr. Wye, but Hadden appears. He explains that for now Ellie and Palmer need to take advantage of the fact that they have been liberated from Overseer nanites, but there would be negative repercussions if they tried to share what they know with others. Hadden calls Ellie and Palmer "Genesaunts".

By the end of Episode 7, Ellie and Palmer are living happily on the Moon, now free of Overseer nanites. Ellie still needs to find objective evidence to support her belief that she has made contact with aliens.

Contact television series: Pilot Episode
Contact Episode 1: Pull the Plug
Contact Episode 2: Good to Go
Contact Episode 3: Voice from the Sky
Contact Episode 4: Hail to Vega
Contact Episode 5: Look Closer
Contact Episode 6: For Carl

The video. The video in this blog post was made possible by the fact that the entire Contact movie is available on YouTube. My video has some images that were captured as screen shots from existing YouTube videos and remixed with new audio. I think the video falls into the domain of "fair use". The video explores the question: What if Ellie's journey to the center of the galaxy, in fact, never happened?

The first time I ever tried re-using content from YouTube was for this video. I found the music on YouTube and I tried to find out if the owners of the song cared about people using it as a sound track for additional videos. My inquires went unanswered so I went ahead and posted the video and this one, too.

For the video on this page, I made a MIDI audio track that was inspired by a famous song using Apple's GarageBand software. The "famous song" is present in multiple copies on YouTube so my guess was that the owners of the song are open to having people mix it into YouTube videos. However, after I uploaded my video (and credited the artist who wrote the song), YouTube said that since the song is owned by a company, YouTube would be running ads on the video.

Since my SciFi videos tend to average a few dozen views it is hard to see how YouTube would harvest much $$$$ from those ads. However, since my MIDI version of the "famous song" seemed to offend the copyright gods, I used YouTube's audio swap system and changed the audio track of my video to one of YouTube's available-for-swap songs. YouTube kept running ads on the video. After seeing the ads that were plastered across the video, I'm tempted to write a pest control company into the Contact television series. Maybe that is how Dr. Wye and Ellie are keeping Overseer nanites out of Moon Base Alpha!

In 2007 I made a video that I posted to YouTube as "Embryos from Earth". I made the audio track using Apple's GarageBand. By using the various GarageBand voice filters I was even able to make the female voices in the video. The main purpose of the video was to give me a chance to play around with some rendering software. This (the original "Embryos from Earth") was one of several videos that had its audio destroyed after a period of time on YouTube, leaving only noise.

Recently I saw that the YouTube audio swap system has an option for reverting a video's sound track to the original audio. I was able to first apply one of YouTube's audio tracks to several of my old videos (with garbled sound tracks) and then revert to the original sound track and restore it. In the case of "Embryos from Earth", I randomly selected one of YouTube's audio tracks, after which YouTube sent me a copyright notice saying that "rumblefish" owns the audio. Apparently YouTube has songs such as "Por Una Cabeza" in its audio swap system that will trigger a copyright claim from "rumblefish". When I tried to revert to the original audio of my video, I got an error from YouTube. I finally gave up and deleted the original "Embryos from Earth" video from YouTube. The newer version of the video that I put on YouTube (after the first version had its audio destroyed) is still there. I've never understood why the audio tracks of some of my videos on YouTube were destroyed. I've seen some music videos on YouTube where the video has been scrambled. I'm left wondering if "rumblefish" or some other company makes copyright claims for YouTube videos that make use of GarageBand sound effects.

When a company like "rumblefish" claims that it owns the audio of your YouTube video, you get a link: "I believe this copyright claim is not valid." that gives the following options:

Where is the option that says: "Dear rumblefish, the audio on my video was supplied by YouTube"?

A scan of my copy of Poundstone's book
These YouTube adventures remind me of a funny part of William Poundstone's biography of Sagan called "Sagan Versus Apple Computer". As Poundstone tells the story, during development of the Macintosh 7100, Apple computer used "Carl Sagan" as the internal code name for the product. Sagan asked Apple to not use his name. Why did Sagan care? Poundstone points to page 208 of Sagan's book "The Demon-Haunted World" where Sagan denounces the idea that people might be persuaded to buy a product just because a scientist had endorsed the product. The folks at Apple complied with Sagan's request and changed the code designation to BHA, short for "butt-head astronomer". At that point Sagan initiated a libel suit (the law suit was eventually dismissed). According to Poundstone, Sagan initiated another lawsuit against Apple's use of "Carl Sagan" as their internal code name for the 7100. That second lawsuit was dismissed and the dismissal was appealed. Poundstone says that Apple eventually settled the case out of court and issued a public apology to Sagan. I wonder what would have happened if, when Sagan learned that a computer's internal code name was "Carl Sagan", he had simply chuckled and moved on with his life. According to Poundstone, at the time when the Mac 7100 was called "Carl Sagan" there were two other Macintosh models under development, code named "Piltdown Man" and "Cold Fusion". It would be interesting to know the inside story of how workers at Apple Computer decided it would be a "good idea" to use Sagan's name in that context. I suppose any public figure, and particularly one with Sagan's cultural background, religious leanings and who was adept at pushing the boundaries of scientific conventionality, is likely to generate "enemies" in the form of people who want to take the "wonder boy" down a notch. Still, it is hard to imagine a group of engineers at a computer company trying to find a way to zing an astronomer. Yet more evidence that truth is stranger than fiction.

Jack Vance included this aphorism in one of his stories: “Law cannot reach where enforcement will not follow.” Copyright law allows people to protect the value of their books and movies, but there is a wide range of responses to derivative works created by fans. Some authors have given their blessing to "fan fiction" that makes use of fictional characters that are protected under copyright law. I can see how someone like J. K. Rowling (who has probably made more money than she will ever be able to spend) can afford to be generous and luxuriate in the admiration of her fans, allowing them to write and share on the internet fan fiction stories featuring the characters that she created. Of course, each copyright holder gets to decide if they will allow use of their copyrighted materials. It is interesting to watch companies like Google/YouTube trying to function in the "gray area" where enforcement of copyright protections is spotty. As a fan of authors like Sagan, Vance and Asimov and movies like Contact and television shows like Star Trek and The X-files I'm thankful for the fact that there is room on the internet for fans to discuss the stories, characters and ideas of people like Carl Sagan.

Related reading (Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video)