Fast-forward on the Future

Really interesting list from Politico of 17 pandemic innovations that are here to stay:

Amid all the death and heartbreak, Covid-19 also hit fast-forward on the future.

For the past year, POLITICO has been chronicling these changes, from cities to states to the federal government, as part of our Recovery Lab project. One thing we’ve noticed is that many of these pandemic innovations, while birthed in crisis and adopted temporarily, increasingly look like they are here to stay.

Most of these, I think, are pretty good, and any downsides I think can be adapted or worked around as we move forward. The big trick will be holding onto the most beneficial aspects, especially those that benefit marginalized communities but may not be as immediately noticeably beneficial for the majority.

Star Trek Technobabble vs. Magic

So in last week’s Star Trek: Discovery, the ship got a major upgrade (in just three weeks). What we’ve seen so far includes programmable matter bridge and spore drive interfaces, detached nacelles, and even (though not yet seen on screen) holodecks.

Discovery 1031-A

Today I noticed one thing in the new promo pic (embedded above) that I hadn’t noticed while watching the episode: apparently the four corridors connecting the saucer’s inner section to its outer ring have been removed. Here’s a top view of the original design for comparison.

Discovery 1031

This seems like a really odd design decision to me. Before, while getting from the inner to outer sections may not have been super convenient if on foot and not using a turbolift (especially given the size difference between the Disco and any non-Abramsverse version of the Enterprise…and geez, I hadn’t realized just how huge all the Disco ships were), at least if it needed to be done they wouldn’t have had to go more than a quarter of the way around the gap. And there must be times when a turbolift isn’t practical — for instance, moving material, supplies, machinery, or other such things too large to fit in a turbolift around the ship.

I guess it all relies on everyone using those fancy new site-to-site personal transporters embedded in the new badges. But what if they’re not wearing a badge (taken off, fallen off, forcibly removed, etc.)? What if something goes wrong and the transporter system isn’t working properly (which, I know, never happens in Star Trek, but allow it for the sake of argument)? Now the only way to get from the inner ring to the outer ring is to take the primary corridor at the back of the inner ring towards the body of the ship, and then go around the outer ring to your destination. I just hope they don’t have to go from a point on the front of the inner ring to the front of the outer ring! Heck, now I wonder how hard it would be to estimate just how far that distance actually is….

Anyway. It looks cool, sure. But there are practicality considerations.

In a similar vein, how is maintenance done on those fancy new detached nacelles? In our first glimpse, it looked like they can be attached to the body of the ship, and were in the process of detaching in the shot, but what if something goes wrong while they’re detached?

One of the things I absolutely loved about Star Trek when I was a kid, and part of what has always fascinated me about it, was how real everything felt. Even fantastical elements, like the warp drive or transporters, always felt like there could be real, logical science behind them. And obviously, I’m not the only one who was drawn to this part of Trek, as I wouldn’t have all these Star Trek technical manuals and blueprints on my shelves if there weren’t enough of a market for them to get them published in the first place.

Trek Manuals and Blueprints

But so much of modern Trek (both Abramsverse and Discovery) seems to fall into the hand-wavey, might as well be magic, “because it looks cool” school of thought that breaks my suspension of disbelief.

Programmable matter I’m fine with — I want to know more about it, sure, but so far, I’m cool with how they’ve presented it. Detached nacelles (and other ship parts) could really use some serious work on defining what makes them desirable, possible, and accounting for practical considerations. We’ve seen lots of equipment, from space suits to prisoner anonymity hoods to asteroid-catching gravity platforms that just seem to fold open and create matter out of nothing — how is that explained? Where are all these fold-away pieces being stored when they’re not in use? Specifically regarding the asteroid-catching gravity platform, how do you get that much matter and mass into a suitcase that a human can carry around when it’s not in use?

And sure, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“, and sure, we’ve jumped another 900-some years into the future, and yes, we’ve just been introduced to these things, so there’s still plenty of time to develop the technobabble to justify them (or write scenes and scripts that deal with the situations outlined above). And, of course, these are modern shows, and I in no way expect them to be slavishly beholden to the set designs and special effects of the 1960s or 1980s.

But for me, at least, they’re really dancing on the line of believable technology vs. magic. And going too far towards magic is very likely to break a fundamental part of what has defined Trek for me for my entire life.

Old CSS, new CSS: “I’m here to tell all of you to get off my lawn. Here’s a history of CSS and web design, as I remember it.” This is a wonderful rundown of how HTML and CSS web design has changed over the years. I still have a few mid-’90s pages on my site that use a lot of the earlier techniques.

Linkdump for January 11th through January 23rd

Sometime between January 11th and January 23rd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Linkdump for November 29th through January 2nd

Sometime between November 29th and January 2nd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • 365 IETF RFCs: a 50th anniversary dive: "April 7th, 2019 is going to be the 50 year anniversary of the first ever Request for Comments, known as an RFC. These documents started out in 1969 as a way for ARPANET engineers to keep track of notes and discussions on their project. In honor of this anniversary, I figured I would read one RFC each day of 2019, starting with RFC 1 and ending with RFC 365."
  • Is Grover swearing? No, it’s in your ears.: “As a phonetician, these types of misperceptions are sometimes fun because they force you to carefully listen to what people (in this case, Grover's voice) are doing as they produce speech very quickly. Phoneticians focus on the transcription and, more often, careful analysis of speech. Speech is fast, speech is messy, and when the conditions are right, one can misperceive one sound for another.”
  • Against Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”: "Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old is…a stunning technical achievement made by a filmmaker and producer at the top of their form. […] But…I can’t help but refuse and reject this picture in the strongest possible terms. It is a brilliant film that is also, unfortunately, a total mistake."
  • On radical kindness (another aspect of hopepunk): “i will say this again: we are all going to die. the universe is enormous and almost entirely empty. to be kind to each other is the most incredible act of defiance against the dark that i can imagine.”
  • The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk:: “The world is the world. It’s really good sometimes and it’s really bad sometimes, and it’s sort of humdrum a lot of the time. People are petty and mean and, y’know, PEOPLE. There are things that need to be fixed, and battles to be fought, and people to be protected, and we’ve gotta do all those things ourselves because we can’t sit around waiting for some knight in shining armor to ride past and deal with it for us. We’re just ordinary people trying to do our best because we give a shit about the world. Why? Because we’re some of the assholes that live there.”

Linkdump for September 23rd through October 1st

Sometime between September 23rd and October 1st, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • Well, this is a good way to keep me from visiting New Zealand:: "New Zealand's Customs and Excise Act 2018 went into effect today. That means travelers who refuse to give their phone or laptop password to customs officials will be fined NZ$5000. In addition, their devices will be confiscated and forensically searched." Not that I had plans to visit New Zealand, but this sure puts a damper on any interest.
  • The Eternal Life of the Instant Noodle: “Last year, across the globe, more than 100 billion servings of instant noodles were eaten. That’s more than 13 servings for every person on the planet.”
  • Science Says Toxic Masculinity — More Than Alcohol — Leads To Sexual Assault: "Every drink is downed amid cultural expectations and societally mediated attitudes about women and power. Those things — and how young men absorb them — have a stronger causal influence than the alcohol alone. When a man feels entitled to assault someone, he may get drunk before he does it, but the decision to act was ultimately his alone."
  • iOS 12 Siri shortcut for traffic stops: Pauses music, dims the screen, turns on Do Not Disturb, and activates video recording on the front-facing camera. When done, sends the video to a trusted contact or uploads the file to Dropbox. Clever.
  • Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong: “For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives. It’s time for a new paradigm.”

Linkdump for September 3rd through September 23rd

Sometime between September 3rd and September 23rd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Linkdump for September 1st through September 3rd

Sometime between September 1st and September 3rd, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

Linkdump for August 1st through September 1st

Sometime between August 1st and September 1st, I thought this stuff was interesting. You might think so too!

  • The P-I error that changed Seattle history: "Occasionally, newspapers report factual errors. A well-intentioned interview subject gives bad information, a name is spelled wrong, a breaking news story is inadvertently peppered with grammatical errors. But no incorrect newspaper story has had a bigger impact on Seattle history than one published June 7, 1889."
  • 98.6 degrees is a normal body temperature, right? Not quite: “Forget everything you know about normal body temperature and fever, starting with 98.6. That’s an antiquated number based on a flawed study from 1868 (yes, 150 years ago). The facts about fever are a lot more complicated.”
  • The “I Am Steve Rogers” Joke in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Is the Definitive Captain America Moment: That’s who Captain America is, a man who listens to and believes in people when they tell him who they are. That’s a lesson we all should take away from that moment.
  • The Bullshit Web: “An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.”
  • Ignorant Hysteria Over 3D Printed Guns Leads To Courts Ignoring The First Amendment: "…in the last few days the hysteria [over 3D-printed guns] has returned… and much of it is misleading and wrong, and while most people probably want to talk about the 2nd Amendment implications of all of this, it's the 1st Amendment implications that are a bigger deal." Interesting. I'm not at all comfortable with wide availability of 3D-printed guns, but this analysis of the issues is worth reading.