Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Arodnap Part 1

The logic of time travel can be slightly tricky. That is, the logic of travel into the past can be slightly tricky. Time travel into the future is neither logically, nor even technologically, tricky at all. It is, in fact, trivially easy. As you read this, you are traveling into the future. If you want a more dramatic effect, you can execute the following 5-step plan: 1) Find a closet; 2) write the word “Time Machine” on the door; 3) enter the closet; 4) wait (say about 10 minutes); 5) exit the closet. If you have a problem with your current rate of travel into the future (one second per second) according to the well-established Theory of Special Relativity, traveling near the speed of light will solve it.

Time travel into the past, however, is another story. The famous “grandparent paradox”: What if you kill your grandparent in the past? Then you’ll never be born to travel into the past in the first place. Then you can’t kill the grandparent, etc…” Even without speculating on the relationship its author must have had with his own grandparents, this has proven a thorny problem. The answer, however, can be found in the field of data archival and retrieval. In a modern computerized office, nightly backups of the entire system are made and stored. If, at some later date, a previous version of the system is preferable to the current one, the archived version can be retrieved and the computer system will, in effect, be reverted to that previous version. Say, for example, a virus or other malady is introduced to the system on Tuesday. On Wednesday, it is discovered that all of the data on the system has been turned into so much mucus. The system can be reverted back to Monday. As far as this computer system is concerned, the virus never existed. Typically, all subsequent versions of the system are deleted at this point.

The logical paradox of travel into the past can be solved in much the same manner. If we assume that we are traveling to what is in-effect an exact copy of the universe as it existed at some time in the past and realize that all subsequent versions of the universe are deleted, or at least unreachable by us, then the logical paradox is largely alleviated. As a new arrival, we can kill our grandparents, or any other family member we see fit to eliminate, without fear of paradox. We can still travel into the future by standard methods described above. However, in order to arrive at a universe identical to the one we remember, every single coin flip and other random event would have to unfold exactly as they had in the universe that we left.

Of course, but for your influence, they probably will. If you travel backward, say 0.00002 seconds, and remain in an otherwise-empty windowless air-tight room for all twenty of those microseconds, you may have no effect on the events unfolding outside during that time. However, as one diverges from these conditions, the chance of having no effect on the outside world rapidly dwindles to zero. For example, if the room actually isn’t air tight, as the molecules of air that would have passed through the space you are occupying don’t; as they bounce into others, the waves of your influence spread exponentially. Eventually a leaf falls in a slightly different spot than it would have. Someone raking those leaves takes half a second longer to complete the task. They get into their car a moment later than they would have. An automobile accident is narrowly avoided or one that would have been narrowly avoided occurs. Over sufficient time, maybe a century, these events spread out over the earth. For now, however they are constrained to the planet, but it can result in a very different world than the one that would otherwise have resulted.

The exact rate of this dwindle is the subject of Jason “Jojo” Jones’s Ph.D. thesis. He nervously ponders it as he waits, nervous and sweaty, at the Store 24 checkout counter, fingering his cell phone like an anxious gunslinger.

“It’s 2 minutes to ten.” The man behind the counter impatiently announces. “The machine locks up in two minutes. Do you want me just to do a Quick Pick?”

Just then, Jojo’s phone jingles to life with the following text message: “23 21 16 11 7 4” which he rapidly transcribes onto his lottery ticket and hands to the clerk.
“You just made it kid. Good luck.” the clerk calls out to his swinging front door.

Jojo’s already run out the door and into the back of the waiting van outside. The van is actually a converted refrigerator truck, but the cargo compartment, which he will occupy alone for the next sixty-two minutes, is set to a comfortable 71 degrees and furnished with a reclining chair, reading material and a portable DVD player.

This compartment’s counterpart exists back at the lab, about a half mile away. It is occupied by Jojo’s advisor, Professor Arodnap. She is in an airtight room adjoining her laboratory. It’s slightly larger and furnished slightly more comfortably, with a couch, artwork and a minifridge. The professor entered the compartment immediately after reading the numbers from a computer screen just outside of the compartment and texting them to Jojo.

Of course, along with the logical difficulties of time travel into the past, there are laws of physics which need to be circumvented. The most glaring is known as Conservation of Mass: the total amount of mass in the universe can neither increase nor decrease. Let’s suppose Jojo was to travel backward in time, his destination would suddenly have exactly two-hundred and seven lbs of extra mass. If Professor Arodnap were to do it herself, the mass would be slightly less, but the problem would still exist. Conservation of mass does have one loophole, however. Special relativity allows mass to be converted to energy and vice-versa. Special relativity’s graffiti-famous equation states the energy/mass exchange rate:

E = MC2

However, though it might look good as an arbitrage opportunity, this exchange rate is comically severe. The unfathomable speed of light … squared! It’s on your side if you’re making a nuclear reactor, or a nuclear bomb, but would present an insurmountable power-consumption problem even if the time-traveler was Tiny Claire, Professor Arodnap’s beloved toy poodle.

It is, however, within the means of even a small scientific laboratory to generate enough power to send back a small number of subatomic particles, thirty-two of them in the case of this experiment. Each one represents one bit of data. Thirty-two bits happen to be just enough space to encode six numbers between one and thirty-six.

Why use science to cheat at the lottery? The answer that they’ve been telling themselves, the answer that they plan to give if it actually works is verifiability. No one can argue that their method isn’t really predictive when the proof is in the bank. Second, is it really cheating? All of the stated rules of the lottery have been followed. The lottery wasn’t rigged. All people not employed by the lottery are entitled to use whatever means are at their disposal in order to choose their numbers. If you thought you’d had a premonition of the lottery numbers, would you refrain from playing those numbers because it’s unfair to the other players (on the vast majority of whom your wining will have no effect)? Finally, research dollars are very hard to come by. If the winnings are all put back into research, what is the harm? This work is of incalculable value to all of humanity.

“I wish I’d brought either my X-Box or a six pack or both” thinks Jojo. He’s about ten minutes into what he’s starting to believe will be the slowest hour of his life. He’s wrong. His cell phone suddenly rings. It’s Professor Arodnap. Any other call would ruin the experiment, but since they are both contaminated with information from the future, it seems all right

“Hello?” he says tentatively.

“Jojo. You have to destroy the ticket.” By the sound of her voice, he knows she’s serous.


“Right now. Rip it into as many pieces as you ca…”

BAM! The van is hit hard from the rear. It spins ninety degrees and BLAM, it’s hit hard from the side. The van flips onto its back. Books, DVDs, the recliner and Jojo fly through the air. BOOM ! The back of the truck is blasted open. When the smoke clears, a big man with a white beard is pointing a futuristic-looking weapon at Jojo’s bruised and confused face. “Gi’mme the Goddamned ticket Jojo.” The man says in a calm gravelly voice.

“Where’s Gina?” Jojo asks about the driver of the van.

A voice calls from the cabin, “I’m all right. What the hell just happened?”

ZZZZZZZT -- The weapon shines what looks like a blue light on Jojo and he screams in terror and agony.

“The ticket.” Says the man. Jojo struggles frantically to get the recliner off of him so that he can reach his pants pocket to get the ticket. When the chair rolls off of him, he can hear Professor Arodnap’s voice. The phone was stuck between him and the recliner and she’s still on it: “Jojo, listen to me, do not let the …”

The man points his weapon at the phone and it melts into a black blob on Jojo’s lap, he barely escapes severe burns by jerking his body up off of the floor. In the same motion he leaps out of a small tear at the corner of the damaged truck. He hits the pavement and grabs Gina. They run for their lives toward the lab.

A shadow comes over them. Above them, a huge craft. BLAM! A blast from the craft narrowly misses and opens up a crater right in front of them. They are showered in asphalt pebbles. They fall into the crater.

RAT-A-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT – The sound is coming from the lab. They’ve got a cannon firing back at the craft. Smoke appears above the wing and the craft veers off.

Jojo and Gina climb out of the crater and run into the lab.

In addition to the issues of logic and basic physics surrounding the time traveler’s arrival, there is also the issue of transportation. In order to travel backward in time, one needs to open up what we will call a corridor through time, the 4th dimension. In order to travel from time B to time A, a corridor needs to be opened between these timepoints. The way that it’s done in this experiment is by opening the corridor at time A and holding it open until time B. Then the particles are encoded and sent through the corridor at time B and read at time A. At least that’s how it was supposed to work. Time A is 9:58 PM, in time to submit the lottery ticket, and time B is 11:00 PM, the moment the lottery numbers are drawn. The corridor was opened and held open on what became an alternate timeline, parallel to the one we’re on now. After the numbers were sent, received, texted, and submitted to the clerk, the only thing left to do was wait until the lottery drawing without doing anything that would change its outcome. Professor Arodnap made the decision to keep the corridor open while waiting in order to make as few changes as possible from what they did on the parallel timeline. Though logical, this was an unfortunate decision.

Once a corridor is opened, there’s no way to know what’s going to come through it. Having made what is essentially a tunnel through time, it’s possible for others to tunnel into it from points C, D, E, F, G and come out at point A, point B or anywhere in between. Professor Arodnap had thought of this possibility, but discounted it. As previously mentioned, in order to deal with the introduction of matter, there is a huge energy-consumption requirement at the destination point in a journey through time. The invention of matter-to-matter transfer, that is the conversion of matter at the destination, on an atomic basis, into the form of the arriving time traveler. They basically invented a way to quickly suck massive amounts of air into the corridor as the traveler exits, this balancing the mass. It was a very windy few minutes until the machine was shut down.

This being the first instance of such a tunnel, this experiment’s point A is the earliest timepoint reachable through such a tunnel on Earth. Before Professor Arodnap was summoned from her sealed compartment to shut it down, the corridor produced time tourists, adventurers, anti-time-travel militia trying to stop the experiment, and anti-anti-time-travel militia trying to stop them.

"Are you all right?" asks the professsor as Jojo and Gina reach the lab.

"Yeah." says Gina.

"Who was that guy? ... and who are all of these people? ... and what in the heck is that?" Asks Jojo as he gets his bearings and notices Colonel Cadry's enormous rifle.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

G-R-O Led Salad Great!

When you realized that the internet was optimized for finding song lyrics, what was the first song you looked up? Mine was Those Were the Days, the intro song for All in the Family.

Listening to this song again, I realize that we finally did get "a man like Herbert Hoover again". Thank goodness we're finally almost rid of him.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Recorded History

In the future, there will exist roughly as much information about each and every person's life as would exist in a standard memoir. This information will exist into perpetuity and be database searchable. So, if historians want to ask a specific question about what life was like, what people were thinking, etc., they can make a clever query and search the database. Studying the history of people (like us) who lived before this data exists will be like studying cave paintings and ancient scrolls. You have to make a story about people's lives based on the shreds of evidence that happen to have been written down. There's a big bias toward famous people and others (like me) who write everything down in spite of a lack of people interested in reading about them.

Friday, January 9, 2009

An Idea for a Broadway Musical

The Elton John album "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" is a Broadway musical waiting to happen. Just listen to it from start to finish and tell me it isn't true. The musical is a coming-of-age story about a kid who leaves home to go to the big city and all of the crazy stuff that happens there.

Though not on the album, "Take Me to the Pilot" would be a great big finish. It's about him finally coming to terms.

I asked her how she'd gotten into dog breeding.

She said: "It would have been a rags-to-riches story, but I started out with *bags*".

(Would this have been funnier if it had been about pimping instead of dog breeding?)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Heckler

Here's an idea for a movie. It's called "The Heckler". It stars Chris Kattan. He's a guy who figures out that his true calling is to sit in the audience of comedy shows and heckle the stand-up comedians. He's hilarious, but eventually gets his comeuppance.

The 7 Pills

In the future, there will be a pill for each of the seven deadly sins. There are already potent anti-sloths pills, anti-wrath pills, and anti-gluttony pills. There have been anti-lust pills for centuries. Just 3 to go: anti-pride, anti-greed and anti-envy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Vacation to Earth

Someday, most people will live in extra-terrestrial biodomes, space stations and ships. It will be considered a great luxury to get back to and spend even a few days on Earth, where you can walk around *outside*; see the sky; jump into a pond; etc. It's the only place we're perfectly adapted to.

Every Kiss Begins With "Kay"

I'm starting a new jewelry store. It's called "F Jewelers".

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What does a lab rat say on a blind date?

"They told me you were a knockout.

But they didn't say which gene!"

How old am I?

25, but I've been counting in hexadecimal since I was E-teen.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Sun is an Entropy Sink

The sun is an entropy sink
More important than water to drink
Its allows life to manage
Law 2 of thermodynamics
Without it we're gone in a blink

There's a *big* dipper too?

What if you only existed for a week at a time, once a year (say from Christmas to New Years)? And you aged normally during these weeks and lived until these one-week periods totaled a normal human lifespan? So you would live for several thousand years, one week per year. What would you do? If possible, you'd create a cult where successive generations of people could each function as your main contact, updating you on what happened over the past year. How closely could you keep up with what was going on? Would this cult try to manipulate you? You couldn't let this cult control your information too closely. Would you be exceptionally wise or just have no idea what was going on most of the time? What language(s) would you speak? I'm imagining an interaction with the public much like that of The Pope. Would your pronouncements be any more or less insightful or relevant than those of The Pope? Would you take the time to learn to drive? You could probably get pretty rich, or at least sustain yourself in high style, on antiques and compound interest.

It would be nice if you, for example, had met Jesus. But it's not that likely that you would have, given the rate at which people and information traveled back then. Also, I don't think that he was nearly as famous during his life as he is now.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bad Double Feature Idea

If you were forced to watch Cujo and Beethoven in succession, which would you watch first? Maybe this combination would be better as a hilarious switcharoo farce. Sort of like the end of Bringing up Baby.

The Botwins Must Die

I've been watching Weeds on DVD. It started out all right. It was funny enough. As he rarely has been, even on Weekend Update, Kevin Nealon is reminiscent, consciously I'm sure, of early '80s Chevy Chase. I would even say that the show sometimes provided insight as a clever dismemberment of suburban life.

However, now that I've gotten through the first disk of the third season, I'm pretty much ready for all of the characters (except maybe the little kid) to get killed. Unfortunately, I know there are at least 2 more seasons.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My New Years Resolution?

1024 x 768

Time Travel

Traveling forward in time is simple. You can travel close to light speed, fall asleep locked in a closet, or just sit there (if you're satisfied with your current rate of travel which is one second per second). Backward is another story. The logical problems can be solved if the state of the universe is "saved off" at periodic intervals like a hardDrive backup. Then, when you go to a previous state, all of the states after the destination state are blown away and, if you travel forward again, it's just like locking yourself in a closet. So, the future world you arrive at will only be the same as the one you left if every single coin flip and other random event turns out *exactly* the same as they had in the world you remembered.

This leaves the physical problem of conservation of mass. If you go back in time, the destination universe suddenly has more mass (you are added). This can be fixed by relativity, but the amount of energy to account for something big (like a person) is far too much for any conceivable device to generate. You also need to absorb the energy released by your disappearance in the present. However, something tiny, like a subatomic particle, could be managed this way. Information, for example, in the form of one spinning quark per bit (spin direction = bit value) could be sent. Say, 32 (enough to win the lottery) would be perfectly reasonable for a modern device.

Of course, the problem of random events reoccurring still exists, but if you minimize the amount of time it has to travel backward and the influence of those who know the result, you could probably still win it (though it may take a few tries).