wafting your way along the slipstreams of the Info Highway

from Bubbles = Tom Digby



Issue #19

New Moon of July 15, 1996

Contents copyright 1997 by Thomas G. Digby, with a liberal definition of "fair use". In other words, feel free to quote excerpts elsewhere (with proper attribution), post the entire zine (verbatim, including this notice) on other boards that don't charge specifically for reading the zine, link my Web page, and so on, but if something from here forms a substantial part of something you make money from, it's only fair that I get a cut of the profits.

For more background info, details of how the mailing list works, etc., look at issue #Zero.

If you email me a reply or comment, please make clear whether or not it's for publication.

Summer weather leads to thoughts of nudism, which reminds me of a political satire show some years back titled "That Was the Week that Was" or TW3 for short.

One bit they did had a panel of "distinguished experts" getting asked "What can the forces of international nudism do to stop the flow of small arms to Arabia? The panelists all answered "Not a darn thing," or very similar words to that effect. End of panel discussion. Elapsed time, perhaps two minutes, including introductions of panelists.

But one would think nudism could make smuggling slightly more difficult, since without clothing there would be fewer places to hide things. There'd still be luggage, but without clothing most people would pack a lot less stuff. So there would be fewer hiding places on one's person, plus less luggage to search. So why not promote nudism for the masses?

You'd need more weather protection, especially in cold climates, but the Minneapolis skyway system is a start. We'd just need to add that in other places like Atlanta and Los Angeles and every other city worth flying to. Or maybe people would carry blankets to wrap up in, Indian- style. And maybe not have them carry the blankets around as luggage but rent them at airports, One Size Fits All. Be great for security. Some people might grump at it, but ignore them because this is a matter of raw survival so we can't stop to consider other considerations.

Roadside Diner on the Information Highway

You go into a restaurant you've never been to before. The first thing you do is give them your credit card or otherwise identify yourself. The restaurant's computer would access your Web page and download your personal preference profile. It then knows, for example, that if the restaurant has windows you like watching the passing parade of traffic, and you like water delivered immediately when you're seated.

Then the terminal on your table shows a menu, arranged with the items you're most likely to order first after whatever Specials they're pushing right then. If you order a hamburger it knows, for example, that you will probably want it Medium, with mustard and onions but no ketchup or pickle slices. So that's the default it suggests. Of course you can override it if you're in a fickle mood that day. You might even be able to tell it "Surprise me" and get something random.

After the meal you may be shown a survey form. If you fill it in it gets emailed to a special program in your personal account, possibly updating your preference profile for next time. And of course it also gets sent to the restaurant as feedback about potential problems or new trends.

Some science fiction stuff led me to thinking of how we might extend the Net (Internet, Usenet, WWW) to the rest of our solar system, assuming a human presence there. What are the problems? How might we solve them?

For example, how might one handle Net hookup for a space station orbiting Pluto, where the round-trip light-speed time from Earth is roughly ten hours? Very few people would stand for a ten-hour delay in character echo while typing, so something else is needed. But what?

And what of their Web page? Mirror it on some Earth site, so you don't get ten-hour timeouts when making the connection? Or have some kind of artificial intelligence that knows what you'll probably want and is patient enough to put up with the delays, giving you copies of the relevant items the next day?

And how about people who label their Usenet posts with "Distribution: World"? Will that need to be upgraded to "Sol System"? I wouldn't be surprised, although the Powers that Be may decide to let "World" stand for universal distribution, not just Earth. In a way "Distribution: World" is analogous to the two-digit year problem we're going to have to face in about 3 1/2 years.

And all this leads to wondering about how we coordinate computer nets in the event of friendly alien contact. I imagine the first step, once some minimal communication is established, would be to build special gateways to translate data formats, physical link voltages, etc., at least on the lower protocol levels.

Then what for higher levels? If some kind of automated language translation is available between their language(s) and ours, where does that go in the stack? For Usenet it could go in the gateway, so they see all our postings in their language and we see theirs in English. Or it could go in the user software, with their postings being posted in some binary encoding of their language and translated when they're read. The former allows economy of scale while the latter gives more flexibility. Maybe it could be different in different groups? I think there are already Usenet groups for postings in French and Japanese and such, just as the groups I see are full of postings in English. So groups in various alien languages seem possible.

Email? Possibly have a user setting to see it either translated or in the original? But what if address formats are incompatible? Have their entire net appear to Earth machines as something like Then they could put just about whatever they wanted within their "site". And they'd probably do something analogous on their end, with all of Earth appearing to them as one node on their Net.

Telnet and such? You could do at least some simple stuff through a translation shell. Maybe even become a Power User. But you might also need to learn some of the language and thought patterns of whoever built the system. Maybe.

Graphics? What if their visual sense is different? Maybe they have more or fewer primary colors than we do, and maybe they extend into our UV or IR, or vice versa? That could get to be a big can of worms.

There are similar problems for speech. If the organic pattern- recognition neural hardware in their nervous systems is different from ours, what's acceptable information loss in speech compression may be different. And what sounds right would almost certainly differ. This might also make it effectively impossible to learn each other's languages, and different vocal apparatus might also make speaking the other's language impossible. Translation software to the rescue? Maybe.

There's a whole area here that could use exploring.

"When writing was invented there was suddenly a lot of overtime work at the patent office, processing all the backlog of stuff like fire and wheels that people had invented earlier but couldn't patent because writing hadn't been invented yet. That, by the way, is why Writing has patent #1 even though fire had been invented earlier."

Something I read recently discussed some of the processes of insect metamorphosis. That, combined with the Pagan chant that has the line "Deep in the Mother, die and be reborn" leads me to wonder about religious imagery of non-humanoids. What imagery would arise from something that has a larval stage followed by the type of breakdown and rebuilding that goes on inside a cocoon? Does whether or not the larval stage is intelligent, and if so, whether memories are retained by the adult, make a difference? If the larva is blind while the adult has eyes, what does that do? And what if the first human religion they come across is Christian, with emphasis on being "born again"?

Is it "Solipsists' Convention" or "Solipsist's Convention"? That's always a big topic of debate at such gatherings, along with questioning the attendance figures.

Something in an electronics project I'd recently been working on reminded me of a question I had once: Various physical phenomena are reciprocal. For example, a transmitting antenna can also be used to receive. You can use a loudspeaker as a microphone. You can use some kind of microphones as tiny speakers. And so on.

Given this, and assuming that astrology works, would it work the other way? If you can read world affairs in the positions of the planets, can you fill in missing astronomical data by studying world affairs? "If there's a war next week in Country X, that means Neptune is a couple hundred meters farther along in its orbit than we thought it was, which means the tidal influence of the comet cloud is ..."

And if we had the technology to move planets around, could we influence human events? Could we prevent a war, for example, by preventing the planets from getting into a configuration that astrologers say would portend such a conflict?

Problem is, could we get enough agreement among astrologers for this kind of thing to work? And even if we could, could we avoid blundering into worse problems than those we set out to prevent? Talk about Environmental Impact Reports ...


If you haven't seen "Independence Day" and want your mind to be free of information about it, skip down to the next row of asterisks.

Since I saw that movie I've been wondering about the aftermath. The standard same-genre sequel probably isn't an option. Another alien invasion so soon after the first isn't plausible unless this second batch was following the first around, vulture-like, hoping for this kind of situation. That does make some sense in that there might not be enough Earth military left to do much to them, so they'd be more likely to win. But even though that may be a reason for a second set coming in on the heels of the first, it doesn't feel to me like too good a deal sequel- wise. Instead, I was thinking about a variety of things that might lead to sequel-like things but in different genres.

First, can human civilization pull itself back together, or will it slide into barbarism and a long Dark Age? If civilization somehow hangs together enough to rise from the ashes, will it be a better civilization? Or will it perhaps be worse, or maybe just Different? It will probably vary from one place to another, leading to many possibilities in the post-apocalypse vein.

I'd also expect a number of alien survivors to turn up. What do we do with them? Shoot them on sight like game animals? Lynch them? Or round them up and kill them in death camps, Hitler style? If some countries do that, I could see others (Israel?) denouncing it as a "second Holocaust".

So maybe we give them POW status, at least for a while. Then what? If their desire to take over Earth is cultural and not hard-wired we might be able to come to peaceful terms. Then we might have something like "Alien Nation", only with more differences that are harder to smooth over.

Did members of both sexes survive? It looks like the survivors would be mainly or entirely military, so it may depend on gender roles in their culture. It would be like Earth being destroyed with the only human survivors being those on board certain Navy ships. If all the survivors are one sex, then we have a sad scenario of watching their species slowly die off.

But they might have been lucky enough to have both sexes survive. I could see giving them living space on Earth in return for them teaching us their technology. Then we (both species) expand out into the solar system: Mars, the Asteroid Belt, moons of the gas giants, etc., maybe also a Venus terraforming project.

Meanwhile, theological debate rages. There could be schism in several denominations over the aliens' humanity or lack thereof. Are they the kind of enemy Jesus said we should love and forgive, or are they demons we should smite, or what? They're clearly not sons of Adam, but are they nonetheless children of God? They think. Do they also feel? Can they love and forgive?

Perhaps there are clues in their wreckage. Is it all utilitarian, or are there works of art also? Even if the wrecked craft are military, there would have been provision for rest and recreation, perhaps including general-purpose libraries. So see what clues those offer. And look for chapels and chaplains. Do they have their own religion? If so, what's it like? Does it have room for love to replace hate and conquest?

There's room for literally dozens of followups, including TV series, novels, even video games. But in my opinion there's little room for the traditional sequel that's "More Of The Same". To succeed they must dare to be Different. Can they do it? And will the public buy it?

The Moon landing in 1969 wasn't the only big space feat to happen around this time of year. There was also a Mars probe several years later. That inspired this:

                         Draining the Last Canal

"It's landed!
 It's finally landed!"

"Let's go see it!"

"What if it sees us?"

"Don't worry. 
 It has eyes only for the physical.
 We could form a mob
 and advance on it with pitchforks and torches
 and plaster it with posters and graffiti
 and make obscene gestures right into the lens
 and still it would ignore us."

"But surely among its masters
 are a few who are not blind.  
 Won't they see us?"  

"They have seen us for centuries already 
 without artificial aid. 
 Physical sight forms a barrier:
 If we want them to see us 
 we must approach from behind,
 lurking just outside the picture:
 Or else retreat behind a dune, 
 or better yet, the horizon." 

"Retreat, retreat, retreat.
 First to remote areas of their world, 
 then to here,
 and soon to places beyond.  
 Will it ever ens?" 

"Probably not, 
 since that is why they created us:
 To give them something to follow
 to remote lands, then here,
 and eventually the stars."

"The stars...
 Enough to last quite a while.  
 But then???"  

"We'll think of something."

"We always do."

                                   Thomas G. Digby
                                   written 0205 hr  7/24/76
                                   entered 2225 hr  2/08/92

                                -- END --

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