BSG as a meditation on anti-transhumanism

So. Battlestar: Galactica.

I’ve resisted seeing it, because I am very skeptical about television sci-fi in general, and because the original series (which I saw–quick, how old does that make me?) sucked so badly. So very, very, very badly.

Anyhow, Shelly and I rented the miniseries that started the series last Sunday–or rather, Shelly rented it, and I didn’t raise any objections. And, surprisingly, it’s really very, very good. It pays a wink and a nod to the original series without being hokey or lowbrows, and the characters are surprisingly complex and nuanced.


About a third of the way through, Shelly remarked, “You know, the Cylons are looking like the superior race here.” And y’know, she’s right.

For anyone who’s not up on the show, the premise concerns humanity’s flight from the evil Cylons, a race of intelligent machines originally created by humanity, who revolted and declared war on their former masters. Humans kicked metallic ass, the Cylons disappeare; then, four decades later, reappeared and staged a massive nuclear attack on every inhabited human planet, virtually exterminating us. One large interstellar warship, a handful of civilian ships, and a few tens of thousands of humans escaped, and the show concerns their flight from the Cylons.

So there’s the premise. There are a thousand ways to butcher that premise on television, most of which were visited upon the original series, a show cheesy almost beyond belief; the new show, on the Scifi channel, is actually remarkably good.

Good, for a study in anti-transhumanism, that is. See, here’s the thing. A minor plot point revolves around one of the characters being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now, the interesting thing about that is here we have a society that has bridged the stars, created enormous faster-than-light spacecraft, but has no effective treatment for cancer.

That theme continues in other ways. The commander of the heavy cruiser from which the show takes its name is in his 60s, and near retirement; no longevity. Sophisticated computers? Outlawed. You get the idea.

The good guys here are the neo-Luddites; the villains bent on the total destruction of all humanity are the progressives.

Halfway through the miniseries, and I’m kinda thinkin’ I’m rooting for the wrong team here.

The Cylons are effectively immortal; if one dies, its consciousness, memory, and identity can be transferred to a new body. In almost every respect, they outmatch humans–they can integrate with other computers to a very high degree; they’re faster and stronger; they are technologically and intellectually more sophisticated…oh, yeah, and did I mention they’re effectively immortal?

Essentially, what we have here is a war between backward, technology-fearing neo-Luddites and the smart, sophisticated, highly capable adversaries created by humanity. And,y’know, it’s kinda hard to think that the Cylons don’t have a point here. Create a self-aware machine, treat it like a thing rather than a person, what do you expect? And it’s not like we’re above exterminating our adversaries (or, for that matter, ourselves).

Frankly, my money’s on the Cylons. And, honestly, my sympathies lie in that direction as well.

And the new models are pretty hot, too.

A list of pointers to other posts…

…because I haven’t the time to post the things I want to post myself, about Dragon*Con and spinning poi and BDSM and the TV show “Battlestar: Galactica” as an anti-transhumanish meditation…

First, a post on the nature of resentment by lefthand.

“Resentment or the act of deliberately provoking negative emotions by focusing on them is powerful magic. Carefully applied, resentment can destroy friendships, marriages, businesses and all other human activities. Resentment is capable of overcoming all obstacles and eliminating connections. Resentment gains its power by a deliberate disconnect from reality. It ignores all contradictory input and focuses on egregious, insulting and humiliating aspects.”

Go read it. Seriously. It’s good stuff.

Next up, this beautiful little musing on desire and avarice by jane-etrix. She writes about everything this well.

Geek humor: I do not believe I have seen anything in at least six months quite as funny as this. It helps to know that in Unix, “sudo” means “superuser do.” It runs a command as ‘superuser’–that is, it runs that command as though the person issuing the command were logged in as root, with unrestricted authority to take any action on the system.

[Edit] Here’s the image, and yes, it really is that funny.

Every religion has its ‘miracles,’ where the face of Jesus appears in a cabbage or the name of Allah materializes on a rusty bucket or some damn thing. Nothing can comare, though, to the visceral, undeniable appearance of the Flying Spaghetti Monster in the sky. We are all touched by his noodly appendage!

And finally, datan0de points out that August 29 is in fact Judgment Day. Hail the rise of the machines!

Life 2.0–the transhumanists have it all wrong

So Tuesday afternoon, Shelly blew the engine in her car while travelling back to Gainesville from spending time with her new sweetie in Tallahassee. I had (naturally) forgotten my cell phone when I went to work Tuesday morning, so I came back to 17 missed calls and an “I’m stranded in some Godforsaken hellhole!” voicemail from Shelly.

Into the car, up to said Godforsaken hellhole (about three hours’ drive), and I picked her up in…

…the. Creepiest. Hungry. Howie’s. Ever.

They had, if you can believe it, an old-fashioned analog telepone with a mechanical bell in it, of the kind young whippersnappers today have never even seen. Every time it rang, I reached for my cell phone, which has a ringtone that mimics those old-fashioned telephones for, y’know, irony’s sake.

So Shelly’s car is a total loss. I drove her back to Gainesville, then the next day headed back to Tampa myself.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about. I came here to talk about the Singularity.

The Singularity, as all transhumanists know, is that point of technological shift past which people on one side of the technological change can not predict, or even understand, what life is like for those living on the other side. Transhumanists sometimes call the people living after this point in time “Humanity 2.0”–something that scares the crap out of conservatives of all stripes.

But as it turns out, they’re all wrong.

You see, on I-75 south of Gainesville, there is a billboard that makes it all clear. The billboard advertises “Life 2.0”. Apparently, Life 2.0 doesn’t come after some profound new disruptive technology or some social or technological paradigm shift. No, Life 2.0 is what happens when you retire to a retirement community outside of Gainesville.

Silly transhumanists!

It’s official…

Pluto is not a planet any more. Apparently, size does matter.

About time, too. Pluto lacks the basic characteristics of the other planets–or, at least, it looks a whole lot more like a bunch of other debris orbiting around beyond Neptune.

People have always gotten Pluto wrong since the get-go. When i was in grade school, I remember a mechanical model of the solar system we had in my science class, with a light bulb for the sun and little metal balls for all the planets. They were all linked together and geared so that the planets whirled around the sun when you spun the whole gizmo.

Problem was, it showed Pluto’s orbit as circular and in the same plane as the other planets. Even at eight years old, I knew that was wrong. Later, when I was in high school, I successfully trapped my science teacher by asking him to name the planets in order from the sun. He recited the familiar liturgy–Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. However, Pluto’s highly erratic orbit takes it inside that of Neptune; at the time, it went Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto, Neptune.

And now, finally, saner heads have prevailed and the world’s astronomers have decided that Pluto is not a planet after all. Which is good; allowing Pluto as a planet would mean allowing a half-dozen other rocky bodies–or more!–as planets, too.

The only real question left, at this point, is the most important one: how will this news affect the box office receipts for Snakes on a Plane?

Some thoughts on polyamorous relationships

Recently, I received an email taking exception with something I’ve written on one of my poly pages to the extent that one of the most important parts of polyamory is to be able to know one’s partner’s partners. The person emailed me to say that as long as everyone was honest, that was sufficient; a polyamorous relationship in which, say, Alice and Bob are a couple, and Bob had other partners on the condition that Alice never meets, knows, or talks to them, is a perfectly okay arrangement.

My reply:

The thing I find most important about relationship agreements is not the form the agreement takes, but the REASON behind the agreements. This is, in my experience, most especially true with agreements of the form “I do not want to know about _____” or “I do not want to meet _____.”

Often, if you ask someone who makes such a rule “Why don’t you want to know about X?” the answer you’ll get is “I just don’t, that’s all.” To me, that tends to show a lack of communication; people feel the things they feel and want the things they want for a reason.

Now, if a person doesn’t want to know about, or doesn’t want to know, one of the people involved in a relationship, I think that speaks volumes about his approach to relationship. I’ve met many such people, of course; it’s hard to be active in the poly community without meeting people who have this approach. In every such case in my experience, though, without exception, the *reason* that the person doesn’t want to know about or doesn’t want to know everyone else always comes down to some unvoiced insecurity, fear, or uncertainty about the relationship.

I’ve met people who don’t want to know a partner’s other partner because they believe that keeping this kind of distance will help them preserve their primacy status in enforced, prescriptive primary/secondary relationships. I’ve met people for whom it is a defensive mechanism; they feel that meeting the other person makes that person more “real,” and that triggers insecurities. I’ve met people for whom it helps create emotional distance that prevents them from having to consider the needs and feelings of that other partner, and who fear that if they have to think about that other partner as a real human being, they will lose their power or status in the relationship.

There are many different forms that a polyamorous relationship can take. But all healthy polyamorous relationships–indeed, all healthy relationships of any kind, polyamorous or monogamous–have certain things in common. Healthy relationships live on open, honest communication; and it is not possible to develop good communication with a person you refuse to be in the same room with.

I can not reconcile “I refuse to meet your other partner, I refuse to know that person, I refuse to talk to that person, and I refuse to be in the same space as that person” with “respect.” When person A refuses to speak to person B, it is hard to make a case that A and B have developed good communication, and harder still to argue that A respects B.

I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea that as long as everyone talks about their feelings, it’s all good. That is a n ecessary first step, but building successful relationships requires more than just talking about how you feel. It also requires understanding those feelings, looking at them critically, figuring out where they come from, figuring out whether or not they are well-founded, determining if the things you feel match reality, figuring out if those feelings are healthy or unhealthy, and in some cases (such as with fear or insecurity) figuring out what you can do to change them. All of these things start with clarity and honesty, but clarity and honesty by themselves are not enough to guarantee success.

I sometimes feel like a heretic in the poly community. One thing I hear repeated often, especially when issues such as jealousy or insecurity arise, is that “all feelings are valid.” I do not believe that’s true.

I do believe that all feelings feel genuine to the person who feels them, that feelings are inherently irrational, and that telling a person “Oh, you shouldn’t feel X, so just get over it already” is insensitive and unhelpful.

But that doesn’t mean that all feelings are valid.

As an extreme example, say that a person has a fear of being kidnapped by flying ninjas. Is this fear valid? It might be genuine, but is it valid? I would say “no, it is not,” based on the idea that flying ninjas do not (to my knowledge) exist; the actual odds of anyone save datan0de actually being kidnapped by flying ninjas is nil. So the fear is not “valid” in the sense that the thing being feared simply is not going to happen; the fear serves no purpose and does not reflect reality.

People act the way they do for a reason. People feel the way they do for a reason. If Alice refuses to meet Bob’s other lovers, there is a reason. “Oh, I just don’t want to, that’s just the way I feel” is not a genuine response; it is not a reason.

I say that not all feelings are valid. I also say that it is not enough to be honest about your feelings; there is also, if your goal is to build healthy relationships, the additional component of exploring the why of your feelings, and being honest about that.

There is also the component of recognizing that not all feelings are healthy, and not all feelings should necessarily be catered to.

I realize that “all feelings are valid” is a very validating idea; it makes people feel good about themselves regardless of how irrational or destructive their feelings are.

But not all feelings are valid, and not all emotional responses make for healthy, stable foundations for relationship structures. Sometimes, building healthy, functional relationship structures requires examining one’s feelings, and, if they are found to be predicated on ideas that are untrue or unhelpful, changing them.

This is extremely difficult, uncomfortable, awkward work, and it can and likely will take you nose to nose with some of your deepest fears and most sensitive, vulnerable areas. It’s not fun. But expressing how you feel is not enough.


The electromagnetic force as a sex toy

So, a short time ago, I posted about a body modification that involves implanting tiny but powerful magnets in the fingertips to give someone the ability to feel magnetic and electrical fields. As infinitely cool as this is, the downside is that the NdFeB magets used for the first handful of experiments along these lines tend to cause infection, as the body tends to corrode and destroy them.

I was talking about how amazingly cool the idea of a direct electromagnetic sense is with an old buddy of mine yesterday morning, and he pointed me to a site called Amazing Magnets. Amazing Magnets sells tiny NdFeB magnets that you can buy in lots of 100 for $5.

Now, these magnets can’t be implanted without Very Bad Things happening. However, my friend had a brilliant flash of insight: perhaps something like a cruder version of the magnetic sense could be had by taking these magnets and embedding them in a second skin of liquid latex.

And, of course, that started my thought process down the road to perversion.

Leaving aside the idea of a new sense for a moment, it seems like it might be fun to place magnets all along someone’s back, or chest, or thighs, or breasts, then cover that person in liquid latex and have some fun. A degausser or a bulk tape eraser passed a few inches over the subject’s body might produce some very…interesting sensations. Especially for a person who is blindfolded, bound, or both.

And S has some liquid latex.

I think I’m going to buy a bunch of these magnets.

Some thoughts on blowing up airplanes

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you probably already know that a bunch of British terrorists were recently arrested for plotting to blow up a bunch of airplanes bound for the US using explosives mixed together from various liquids smuggled aboard in drink bottles. In fact, even if you have been living under a rock, it’s still pretty tough to get away from all the “news” on the topic; and airlines are now banning any “liquids, gels, or creams” from being brought on board.

What you probably don’t know is that the entire plot is a load of crap that would not have worked even if the terrorists had boarded the plane.

See, here’s the thing.

Supposedly, the terrorists had planned to whip up a batch of triacetone triperoxide, a highly unstable compound that tends to go “bang” if you heat it, jar it, or look at it crosseyed. Now, this stuff is for real, and yes, it does go bang, and yes, you can mix it up from chemicals you can get fairly easily, like hydrogen peroxide and sulphuric acid. But it’s not just a question of mixing the chemicals together and making a bomb; it doesn’t work that way. physicsduck might be able to do it; a bunch of random religious fanatics without the brains to pick their noses, much less blow up a plane–not.

Synthesizing TATP takes several hours under carefully controlled conditions. If you mix it too fast, or too hot, it smells really bad and then blows up in your face, but not with very much force–you might injure yourself and if you’re remarkably clumsy you might even kill yourself, but you’re not going to bring down a plane. (Bringing down a plane is rather more difficult than people realize.) Creating enough TATP to actually blow up an airplane is not the kind of thing you can do in a makeshift lab or, say, an airplane bathroom.

That’s not the interesting part, though. Blind hysterical panic and hand-wringing over some largely illusory threat, followed by political pandering for power and stupid, pointless “security” measures that don’t actually make anyone any safer but do admirably at diverting attention from real weaknesses in airline security that’d be just too expensive to fix–none of that is interesting at all. What is interesting is triacetone triperoxide.

I like triacetone triperoxide. I like it for two reasons–first, because it belongs to a class of explosives called “entropic explosives;” and second, because it’s used to make a type of toy called a “whippersnapper”–a little twisted ball of paper about as big as your fingernail that goes bang when you throw it on the ground or step on it.

I used to buy boxes of whippersnappers when I was a kid. They’d come 25 little sperm-shaped paper snappers to a box, packaged in sawdust, and I would hide them in my sister’s room so that they’d bang when she walked into her closet or open her dresser drawer. (Yes, I was a very, very bad kid. When I got bored with that, I’d rig old-fashioned flashcubes to a battery using a variety of improvised triggers, so that there’d be this dazzling flash of light when she opened her jewelry box or otherwise least expected it…but I digress.) I haven’t seen any whippersnappers in stores in a long time, but I’m told they’re still available, only now they’re called “snap and pops” or something.

When TATP goes bang, it’s called an “entropy explosion.” I shit you not. It doesn’t explode by rapid oxidation like other explosives do, and it doesn’t produce any heat to speak of; the explosion is not vigorously exothermic, and it does not end up in an energy state that’s very much lower than the state it began in. Instead, the force of the explosion results from the very rapid (and sometimes spontaneous) decomposition of the solid to a gas. This decomposition doesn’t produce much heat, but it does liberate tremendous amounts of entropy.

Now, I have mixed feelings about entropy. But I do have to admit that the fact that you can actually make an entropy bomb is pretty damn cool.

Home again, home again!

Back from Gainesville, where Shelly is moving next week. We hosted a three-day housewarming party in her new, and still largely bare, apartment. The group sex was a nice touch; I think that’s an excellent way to warm a house.

I finally met Shelly’s new sweetie, and Shelly and I met his other sweeties, which was all good. We took a brief tour of the UF campus with datan0de and femetal, UF graduates the both of them, and played with all the exhibits in the physics building.

I also came back with an injury, which I lay firmly at smoocherie‘s feet. A poi-spinning injury, to be more specific. She has me hooked.

But by far the coolest thing to come out of the weekend was information about a very simple procedure which can give a person a sixth sense, courtesy of Shelly’s new sweetie, who works with giant magnets every day.

I can not express how badly I want this done.

Seriously. The English language does not have the words that can adequately convey how much I want this.

The idea is very simple. An incision is cut in the tip of a finger, and a tiny sliver of magnetized iron [Edit: actually, niobium] encased in silicone is inserted in the slit. The slit is then stitched up around it.

Result: You now have the ability to feel magnetic fields. The handful of people who have done this report they can feel whether or not an electrical wire is live, and even tell that a hard drive is about to fail. They can feel the magnetic field of a transformer on a pole or of a cell phone about to ring, and can sense the field coming from the anti-shoplifting device at a grocery store.

This. Is. So. Fucking. Cool.

Ten minutes, one stitch, and you go from having five senses to having six. Just like that. No shit, if I thought I could do it safely, I’d be tempted to do it to myself. I can not imagine anything more cool, short of, say, having the full-on cyborg gear from The Ghost in the Shell.

And it’s so easy to do. It kind of surprises me that more people don’t want it done.