March 25th, 2007

#326: I contribute to a meme.

Five things which are glaringly obvious to me, but apparently is beyond the grasp of most people, idea courtesy of pdb:

1) The right lane is the SLOW LANE. If there is one vehicle in the right lane, and there are a long string of vehicles in the left lane, and no one is being passed, don't duck into the right lane and tailgate the one vehicle there. He is the only person on the road who is doing the right thing, asshat. It's not his problem if the left lane isn't going faster than he is. And what do you expect him to do, anyway?

2) Children thrive on dirt. Human beings have raised children in less-than-sterile conditions for eons, and the race has survived quite well. In fact, studies have shown that children who live in less-than-pristine homes have lower rates of allergies and asthma than those who live in ersatz operating rooms. A child's immune system is very powerful; if you don't give it things to fight against, it'll make up enemies like peanuts, pet hair, milk, etc.

3) Tailgating is stupid and dangerous. If the guy you're tailgating has to stop suddenly, for whatever reason, you had better be able to avoid hitting him. If you do hit him, the accident is your fault regardless of circumstances. Most of the time people won't speed up or move over, anyway, and if you rear-end someone you won't get where you're going very quickly. (Sadly, the courts don't care unless there's an accident, so cops don't pull people over for this. But it would go a long way towards curbing "road rage" if people who drove aggressively were ticketed and actually punished for it.)

4) Pickup trucks are not sports cars. If you buy an expensive 4x4, lower it, put big rims and low-profile tires on it, you are not "cool"; you are stupid. You have just taken a machine with a definite purpose and modified it such that it will never be able to meet that purpose. Furthermore, it will never perform as well for its new purpose as a vehicle which had been designed from the beginning for that purpose. That is to say, a lowered H2 won't be any faster, more nimble, or more cool than a Corvette--ever.

5) Men and women are different. Always were, always will be. The feminist movement has proceeded on the assumption that men and women differ only in a few anatomical ways, and that "male" and "female" are sociological constructs. But the postmodern view of sex (not "gender"! Gender is a grammatical construct!) is utterly wrong. Male sociological roles cannot be adequately filled by women, and female sociological roles sure as hell can't be filled by men. The raising of children is a serious business, and we screw with the old "tried-and-true" methods at our peril.

#327: Gee, why didn't we hear about this in the news?

Russel Seitz prints a mention of a retraction by Physics Today saying that the Gulf Stream may not, after all, be slowing down.

The last two sentences form the salient quote, I think:

"Bryden's paper as submitted for publication to Nature included a question mark at the end of the title, suggesting only a possibility that the circulation might be slowing down. On the editor's insistence, the question mark was removed, and the title was changed into a positive statement that caused a considerable stir." [emphasis mine]

But of course there is no bias in the media, right?

Reading Seitz' article, it looks like the data which demonstrates Gulf Stream slowing is of a lesser magnitude than the uncertainty of that data. In other words, there is no way to tell if the Gulf Stream is slower now than it was in 1957.

"It is a mystery how such an error was missed by Levi and by the editors and reviewers of the original paper." Is it? It's no mystery if you realize that the people involved wanted the Gulf Stream to be slowing down, because "slower Gulf Stream=global warming=man-made=apocalypse". It's the media template for global warming.

#329: Singularity, part XVII

Singularity, part XVI

That winter I had to attend Sally Kilgore's funeral.

It was one of those bitter cold days when the snow wouldn't stop. The winter was harsh, harsher than the last few had been; the sextons had had to use jackhammers to open the grave.

I stood with Joe--her son, the doctor. He was alone; his wife had left him and taken the kids, and his father was too sick to leave the nursing home.

Everyone was bundled up against the cold. The graveside service had been moved to a small chapel in the graveyard but it was unheated. Joe followed the proceedings with a blank face; and when it was over, he walked back to his car as if he were leaving the office. I didn't see him again until later that day, but I noticed him watching me as I went to my own vehicle.

* * *

Night had come, and I was sitting in my recliner and watching flames dance in the fireplace. It was woefully inefficient as a heating device but I liked to watch the fire. There certainly wasn't anything worth watching on TV; the satellite system still worked but the signals couldn't penetrate the near-blizzard outside.

The knock on the door startled me; Alyssa answered it, and it turned out to be Joe. He ignored my greeting and instead said to me, "Stand up and take off your clothes."

I laughed. "Your technique is pretty poor."

His jaw dropped, and then his face flamed. "I...I'm sorry, I-- Excuse me," he said, turning to leave.

"What did you hope to accomplish?" I asked him.

He stopped at the door. Alyssa stood by it, watching him with her usual impassive expression; he looked at her before looking at me. Then he said to Alyssa, "Take off your clothes."

Alyssa immediately began to undress.

"Okay, never mind that," Joe said.

"You thought I was a robot, didn't you?" I asked him.

"Considering that your father somehow managed to save his old Meido-san from the Big Blackout, yes," he replied. "Some robots survived the electro-magnetic pulse. So I thought...well."

"Okay...so what made you think I'm one?"

"I watched you today, at the graveyard. You didn't shiver. You didn't get gooseflesh."

"I have a warm coat. Anyway, the cold has never bothered me."

"And, when I was about ten, I remember looking around this house one day, when I managed to sneak away from my Mom while she was having her car worked on. I got into one room upstairs and found this...thing sitting in a chair. It looked like a pretty girl with big breasts--I thought it was a mannequin, or something, because it was dusty, but the tits felt real...or seemed like it, anyway, since I was only ten and had never felt any before." He looked away. "I looked under her skirt, too...she was...anatomically correct, so I thought she might be some kind of sex toy. It wasn't until later that I learned about how some of the old robots were 'fully functional'." He looked at me again. "So then, when Don dies, a long-lost daughter suddenly turns up, and damned if she doesn't look like the robot I saw in that unused bedroom all those years ago."

"So you think I'm that robot," I said.

"Well...if you were, you would have taken your clothes off when I told you to," he said sheepishly. "So it's, uh, a coincidence, I guess."

"They do happen," I agreed.

"So what did he do with the robot? Where is she?" He asked me.

"I don't know anything about it," I told him. "The only robot I know anything about is Alyssa."

"It is possible that he could have sold the parts," Alyssa put in. "There were several years when he required money."

I was impressed at her prevarication. Certainly it was possible. It hadn't been necessary, but it was still possible.

Not expecting a lie from a robot, Joe said, "Well, I guess that settles it. Why don't you know for sure, Alyssa?"

"I was not operational during the entire time. I require periodic recharging."

"So...you came here expecting me to be a robot," I added. "Why tell me to take off my clothes?"

"If you were a robot, I...look, I'm going to go--"

"He expected easy sex," Alyssa said.

"Damn it!" Joe said, face reddening again. "I don't know what Dan did to your OS, but you are too goddamned perceptive."

* * *

Spring came.

I was becoming increasingly impatient with the laws of physics. The signal we had sent to the Kelv'v'ara was only about eight months away from Earth--not even a light year yet--and it would still take another nineteen years to get anywhere near a known Kelv'v'aran colony world, if Alyssa's estimates were correct.

A person can't really get his head around interstellar distances, but that made it seem very real to me: the signal was moving at lightspeed and it would take twenty years to cross space.

We didn't know how fast the Kelv'v'aran ships were. We had never learned much about the operational parameters of their "hyper-light" drive, so although we knew the ships moved comfortably faster than light, we had no idea what the actual numbers were.

I figured it had to be about an order of magnitude. That would make Alpha Centauri about five months away, Tau Ceti a year, Vega a bit less than three years' distance. That would account for the size of their vessels--you can't carry five years' worth of supplies in something the size of a jumbo jet, even with recycling!--and it was a short enough voyage time to make the trip a reasonable prospect for something with a finite lifespan.

Still, that meant twenty years for the signal to get there, and another two years for a ship to get here--assuming they figured it was important enough to send a ship. I was one person, after all.

* * *

Time drifted past--summer, fall, winter, spring, the seasons rolled into each other as they always had. I could sit in the sunlight and see the world turning on as it always had, seemingly oblivious to the trials and tribulations of men. I didn't feel like a part of it; I never really had, but being a robot now made that feeling even more acute.

I performed periodic maintenance on Alyssa but my own body repaired itself, thanks to the advanced nanomachines that formed about a third of my "flesh". Occasionally I got pica-like cravings for things like iron filings, chalk, aluminum oxide--and once I even drank a pint of transmission fluid. I don't know what the nanobots were doing with these things but they were clearly needed raw materials, and I had to admit that it was possible that the Kelv'v'aran Singularity software had made changes even to my hardware systems. But there was no real way to check.

And finally, six years after Alyssa and I had sent our signal, we got a surprise.

* * *

Joe rolled off me and lay on his side of the bed, panting. "Jesus."

I looked at him. "I'm sorry."

He looked at me. "I'm starting to think you are a machine."

"I can't help it. I told you I was a virgin."

"But most women at least have some response."

"I do. Just not...all the way."

Joe and I had been sleeping together, on and off, for six months. He'd made a serious effort to woo me; I'd resisted...but to be honest, my old habits just stopped mattering to me. I couldn't quantify the software changes, but somehow my responses had been altered. I still found women attractive, but distantly; and unfortunately for Joe's ego, I didn't find men much more attractive. It would have been less maddening if my own lonely experimentation had not yielded plenty of climaxes.

"Maybe it's me," he said at last. "I'm older than you, kind of out of shape--"

"No, I wouldn't sleep with you if that mattered to me."

"But maybe I can't stimulate you long enough."

"We tried other methods, remember."

"But if you have orgasms when you masturbate--" he started.

"Look--you're a doctor. You know how complex the female sexual response is. Don't worry about it. I'm having fun!" I also remembered how men focused on the climax--well, that was basic biology; the whole point of the entire works was to fertilize the eggs, and the eggs didn't get fertilized if the man didn't ejaculate. Men were built to focus on that.

"But," he said, getting up on one elbow. "It makes me feel like--"

I sighed. "Stop worrying about it, already, will you? I'm fine with this."

"I don't see how you can be."

"Of course you don't; you're a man."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You focus too much on the end," I said. "That's fine; that's what your instincts demand. But for the woman, the man's orgasm is only the beginning of everything, if it happens at the right time! You know that, Doctor Joseph!"

"In other words, I need you to come in order to satisfy my male ego."

"Well, yeah," I admitted. "But it's not just that. You know; the instinct says that if your woman gets off with you, she spends more time with you and less with other men, and you have a better chance to reproduce."

"You seem to know a lot about anthropology," he said.

"I read. My father had a lot of books."

"I saw the library," he said with a derisive snort. "Your Dad tried to get me to read some of those books. Trash sci-fi stuff--stupid."

And you just had sex with a robot that has a human personality downloaded into it, I thought smugly. A male personality.

There was an odd sound from outside.

"Cassandra!" Alyssa said sharply. She sent a burst of data to my WiFi connection--

I bolted out of bed and ran downstairs, utterly heedless of my nudity. It was a chilly autumn evening but I ran out into the back yard, staring skyward.

An icosahedron--a twenty-sided regular solid--hovered in the night sky, one side lit by the last rays of the setting sun. It hung there, motionless, soundless; my ranging subroutines determined it was not less than a mile across, twenty miles up; it hung there like a giant gray cloud, massive and silent, and it seemed utterly unreal.

Somehow I knew it was hovering right over the barn, where the transmitter had been housed--but it was so massive and so far up that it was hard to tell.

I triggered the "cold" subroutines when I heard Joe coming outside; I was shivering and had gooseflesh by the time he threw a blanket over my shoulders.

"What are you doing out here? I--ulp," he said, looking up.

"It's the Kelv'v'ara," I said. "They're back."