February 7th, 2010

#1929: 16 GFlops

I saw a thing somewhere this morning which mentioned that the Cray 2 was released in 1985 and provided 1.9 GFlops of performance. ("Billon floating-point operations per second" is what "GFlop" stands for.)

So I decided to find out what my computer could do, by way of comparison. Overall it turns out that the Intel Pentium D 925 in this computer, with two cores running at 3 GHz churns out some 16 gigaflops. Which is a mere eight times faster than the fastest computer in the world in 1985.

The Cray X-MP--the fastest computer in the world from 1982-1985--pumped out 920 MFlops (million rather than billion Flops). Clock speed: 117 MHz.

This computer is seventeen times faster than that. (Though its clock speed is 25.6 times faster.) In fact, I would bet this computer could emulate a Cray X-MP in real time. How crazy is that?

* * *

Expect a terror attack in the next 3-6 months. I said it before: the US government assigns a 100% probability to there being a major attack sometime before August is through.

* * *

"Nature has given us sex so we can use it with another girl, with a boy or with an animal." I am going to go out on a limb here and say No. No, that is NOT what "nature gave us sex" for.

Sex is not a social construct which can be interpreted; sex is a biological function which promotes the continuance of a species. Although humans treat the satisfaction of mating urges as a recreational activity, the primary function of sex in any creature is to create more, similar creatures.

"Nature gave us sex" so that humans can make more humans. Nature did not "give us sex" so we could go around screwing dogs or horses or WTF-ever. The fact that some of us still do is more a reflection on those individuals than anything "nature" had in mind.

* * *

Speaking of which--

I had to download Onani Master Kurosawa when I saw it over at BakaBT. C'mon, the title translates to "masturbation master Kurosawa". The story is about a junior high school guy who--every day--sneaks into an unused girls' bathroom at his school and rubs one out.

Despite this, it's not a pervie manga. We never see any "action" (thankfully). With that title I expected it to be horrible--that was why I had to download it--but in fact it turned out to be a really good story and I read it all at one sitting.

The main character--the aforementioned Kurosawa--ends up being blackmailed by one of the girls in his class. Aya Kitahara uses him to get revenge on other girls who bully him, by having him "do his thing" on their clothes or what-have-you; and he's never caught. But he discovers that he has a conscience, and other interesting things happen; and in fact the character changes from an utterly apathetic slacker into someone who knows what he wants to do with his life and is working towards that goal.

He starts out a pretty unlikable person, but ends up being a good guy.

I liked it. I didn't expect to--not with that title!--but it was an excellent story.

* * *

"Only the Navy had jets. They flew very high, and very fast."

...I'm starting to get a hankering to watch Wings of Honneamise again. It's been quite a while since I last saw it. It's one of the best dubs I've ever seen, too.

#1930: SF meandering.

A bunch of SF thoughts, no particular order:

* * *

A properly-designed space elevator won't have a problem if some dick in a hat cuts the cable. The cable would be supported by the space station in geosynchronous orbit; it might move around a bit but it would just hang there.

In my own works, the nether end of the cable isn't even attached to the Earth. It's tethered with guy wires but they're only there to keep the end from drifting around since the terminal is just a little bit north of the Earth's equator. (The side load is a miniscule fraction of the tensile load; I figured it would be okay.)

Where? Well, in the story that features it, the one functioning space elevator (out of the three that Earth has) has its terminal over the Galapagos Islands. The other two have been mothballed; one has its terminal somewhere in Africa, and the other is a bit south of the Philippines.

* * *

I'm still trying to get my head around this, but I'll have a go at it:

If gravity is due to the shape of space--if it's the effect we see of a four-dimensional manifold--why does gravity have to be a force? It looks like one, and acts like one, but it isn't necessarily one.

The problem I have with describing why comes from my lack of mathematics. There aren't words to describe the picture I have in my head. But it's not just that which is the problem; I need to be able to describe why we perceive the universe as a sequence of events rather that as a static whole, and I despair of making the description clear.

If you look at a simple Feynman diagram, it reduces the universe to one space dimension and one time dimension. In that way a photon becomes a squiggly line; a one-dimensional human observer in that universe would see the squiggle as a point particle moving through space, but those of us looking at the diagram see the entirety of the photon's existence, from the moment it is emitted until the moment it is absorbed.

...yeah, this is pretty incoherent. Like I said, I'm still trying to get my head around it.

* * *

In another Fungus bloviation, I discussed non-gravitational singularities. A couple weeks ago I was noodling around with some ideas and realized that you could also have an inertial singularity.

I stalled when I tried to think about what its properties would be. I think it would look like something with near-infinite mass, but without all the inconvenient tides and gravity of something which actually had such great mass. That is to say, it would be utterly and completely immobile, as there isn't enough energy in the universe to start it moving against such great inertia.

Thinking about it now, I realize that the scientist who managed to make one in his laboratory would watch with astonishment as the singularity blew out of his test chamber and laboratory after its formation. You couldn't keep it on the Earth's surface against the centrifugal force due to the Earth's rotation. It'd take off at a tangent, never to be seen again. Assuming the thing was stable, it'd also blow right through anything that got in its way.

Don't aim one at the sun, please. I don't know what would happen.

* * *

That Smallville ep on Friday was good. Nice touch: the JSA's computer was a Commodore 64.

* * *

Starting in December of 2006 I posted a story here which ended up being called Singularity. (Here's where it started.)

Before I lost my FTP space (thanks, AT&T/Yahoo!/GeoCities) I had a PDF of it and Methuselah, a follow-on, posted for download. They were both written off-the-cuff without much planning, and never rewritten; the world was pretty interesting to me.

Methuselah in particular discussed worlds which had passed singularity, where the indigenous population had stopped breeding and died out...yet their consciousnesses (downloaded and stored as the individuals died) lived on. I called this a digital stromatolite. It'd be a machine world; there might be plants and animals but there would be no living sentient beings anywhere.

And there was more than one of these. In that universe, anyway, it's not an unlikely end for a species which carelessly crosses the technological event horizon.

* * *

In To Aru Kagaku no Railgun I am in the story arc about people using the "Level Upper", an MP3 which enhances peoples' psychokinetic talents. Ruiko Saten is the sympathetic user of this; the others who use it are mainly punks. Saten, though--as a Level 0, one of the "have nots" of Academy City--just wants to have a power, so she uses it and gains telekinesis.

The "Level Upper" is audio, but they very carefully explain the concept of synesthesia several episodes before they start actually talking about how the "Level Upper" works. And it turns out that the thing uses synesthesia to stimulate all five senses at once.

(They use a slightly different definition of synesthesia than this one--they talk about warm and cool colors, for example--but it's good enough.)

I thought, "That's some pretty nifty psychoacoustic engineering, there."

...and it reminds me of something from Singularity; there's a scene where the main character is "programmed" by aliens, given information he needs to present their requests to the human race. They used a light show, though, since the human visual cortex is such a massively parallel input system.

In Railgun they couldn't do that, though a visual system makes a lot more sense. The bandwidth of the human ear is pretty tiny--20 kHz--where the bandwidth of the visual cortex is much, much greater. The "Level Upper" is based on another system which does stimulate all five senses, sight included; it's probable that the "Level Upper" is less efficient than the other system they mention.

It makes me realize that it all comes down to the fundamental problem of security: if a system has inputs and outputs, it can be hacked. In the real world, the only sure way to make sure your computer can't be hacked is to isolate it from the rest of the world. The aliens in Singularity had computer technology beyond the Clarke limit ("indistinguishable from magic") so it was no trouble for them to hack the main character's domestic robot even though her wireless networking functions were disabled. (Nor was it particularly difficult for them to implant information into his brain. In fact, only their own morality kept them from programming him into slavery.)

* * *

(This is a compilation of links to Singularity parts 1-8.)

* * *

All of this has to do with a couple of projects I've been noodling around with. One is the final version of a story I first wrote in 1982; there are a ton of things wrong with it (come on, I wrote it when I was fifteen) but the basic premise of the story is good.

I last worked on the thing in the 1990s. Before graduating from college I finished a "pretty good" rewrite of the thing, but that rewrite only fixed the worst of the problems. Now I have a good idea of what and why and how things go; furthermore I have already developed the infrastructure for the story.

The solution to one of my biggest plot problems comes from some ideas related to a technological singularity, and what can happen to one if a problem develops with the technology: all networked systems can be hacked. This development provides explanatons for many things which are seen in other stories set in the same universe.

(I'm hoping to publish this stuff someday; that's why I'm not going into specifics.)

The other project revolves around an all-new story, one about the development of hyperspace travel. I tried to make this story happen while I was still in high school, but I was a shit-for-brains teenager--I didn't have the patience to figure out the intricacies of who and what and why such that I could make them interesting for a reader. Hell, it didn't even hold my interest, and I was writing the goddamned thing.

Part of the problem with that story is that the guy who does all the moving and shaking in it is a class-A jerk. He's a brilliant physicist, but he's a penis, and I don't like him. This makes wanting to write his story a bit difficult for me.

I do like his daughter better, and she shows up in a couple of stories because of this. Then again, she doesn't have the personality of an industrial metal shredder.

* * *

This is heartening. Larry Niven put a habitable world around Sirius, which is an A class star. If he can do it, I can do it.

One colony world (actually three) in my SF universe orbit the star Alcor. In 2000 I was worried that Alcor was a binary--it would have screwed up my entire concept for that system and its "special features"--but I found out to my relief that it was, after all, a single star.

I sent an e-mail to people about it; one of my friends replied, "It's the little things, isn't it?"

Yeah.