Raven's Roost

Raven's Ramblings. By Charles Carleton, otherwise known in various spots on the net as 'Rampant Raven' because there are too many other people named Charles Carleton for me to be the first on a site with my real name. Raven flies under that name on Yahoo Messenger, XBox Live, and Plastic.com.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

A Bridge to Oblivion

Have you ever noticed how vulnerable the bridges are on Hollywood's sci-fi starships? Right out on top, easy to blow up, thus killing the command crew, as well as the movie's main characters. Perhaps you would think that the ships are so high-tech that the bridge is safe in spite of the fact that it's out in the open. But the movies themselves prove this wrong:

In "The Empire Strikes Back" the commander of a star destroyer vanishes from his holo-phone conversation with Darth Vader as the bridge of his ship is struck by an asteroid.

Countless episodes of 'Star Trek' have scenes where the bridge is fired upon, causing smoke and fire, though not usually vacuum. In Star Trek: Nemisis, a hole is actually blown in the side of the bridge, causing some crew members (but not the captain, of course) to be sucked out into space.

In "Return of the Jedi", a crippled A-wing fighter smashes right into the bridge of a star destroyer, sending it reeling out of control. Maybe they forgot to turn on the deflector shields.

In "Revenge of the Sith", General grievous breaks the window of his ship's bridge by hitting it with some sort of electro-staff, escaping into space (He's a cyborg, no need to breathe!); The broken glass is later replaced by a metal shield. In spite of this flimsy bridge design, Aniken and crew control the ship through a re-entry that removes half of the ship later in the movie.

Of course real battleships have the bridge on top too, so the crew can see out. But in Star Trek, the bridge doesn't seem to have windows; just a gonzo-huge monitor that the crew uses for navigation. A real battleship, the USS Missouri, has 2 bridges; one regular bridge, and one below it made of ultra-thick steel with only small ports to look out. Books with floorplans of the Enterprise usually show that it has a 'Battle Bridge' deep within its hull. The heroes usually don't go there during a battle. What do you expect from a navy that uses their command crew as their SEAL team?

So why is the bridge always in harm's way? Maybe because starships are too heavily influenced by terrestrial ships. But I think it's for the sake of drama; The heroes can be brave in the face of danger, even if they could have hidden somewhere safe in the core of the ship.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Intelligent Design for Poodles, not Wolves
Proponents of Creationism are now saying that life is so complex, an 'Intelligent Designer' must have been responsible for the designs. This is not science unless we can perform experiments to figure out who this designer is.
While this is probably impossible for some creatures, such as Wolves, there are other creatures where intelligent design has occurred, and the designers can possibly be identified. Wolves are not really very good pets. They don't obey commands from humans, and they are known to be a bit too wild. Perhaps something like a wolf, but with nice wooly fur that can be trimmed into pretty puffballs, and a tame disposition would be better. Clearly some Intelligent Design went into the French Poodle, though maybe less intelligent than the design of the German Shepherd.
Perhaps the Creationists were hoping for a grander form of designer than dog breeders.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Santa Claus and the Crisis of Faith

He sees you when you're sleeping, He sees when your awake... Santa Claus, the omniscient rewarder of good kids is a sweet legend, but it can be a problem when kids are expected to believe that he is real. Santa Clause is invariable revealed to be fiction to the kids that believed in him. This pre-planned crisis of faith could have ramifications for other omniscient beings. If the kid is ultimately told that Santa is fictional, is there the risk that he or she will expect a similar revelation about God?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Central Planning and the Time-Space Brainpower Continuum

As governments and other organizations get larger, there is a natural tendency to concentrate power arouns some central point. In the worst case, a single person might make all the big decisions. If an organization gets overconfident, it may try to plan things far in advance, as well. But central planning actually reduces the amount of brainpower that is used to run an organization. I will consider Central Planning one word at a time:


When a huge organization is controlled by one or a few people, then only the brainpower of that few people go into the decisions. In a more decentralized organization, more people make decisions, so more brainpower is used. For example, in the United States, the federal government does not make all the decisions, since much authority is delegated to the states. Within states, much authority is delegated to cities and counties. This adds the brainpower of all the people elected into state government to the US governmental brainpower. But The U.S., through Democracy and Capitalism, also delegates much power to individuals, and organizations composed of american people. No matter how smart the President is, he doesn't have the equivalent of 270 million brains.

Another example is the old Soviet Union. We all know how well they did. The Kremlin had iron-fisted control over everything. Smaller divisions of the Soviet Union, such as Poland or Chechnya, were forced to do what the central government demanded, or else. Since the soviet union was Communist, companies and consumers had no say in what things were produced. Even the supposed 'Legislature' was required to be submissive to the boss. Lack of democracy led to the decision of who's in charge to be made by a tiny fraction of the available brainpower.

As the United States trends increasingly towards increased Federal power, we face losing what makes us great. Recently, state electoral decisions were made by the federal Supreme court. A federal beaurocracy took over the airport security job once handled by private industry. Reagan once talked about emphasizing state power in the "New Federalism", but that idea seems to have been forgotten, even by Republicans.

Centralism cuts off the use of brainpower in the space domain; only brains in a limited space, the central leaders, gets used, while other brainpower in the organization is stifled.


Planning ahead can be a good thing, but it can also be a problem. Predicting anything very far in the future has proven difficult. When a plan is to be followed without possibility of change, that's when it weakens the organization that writes it. A plan is a series of decisions made by people at the time of the plan's creation. It the plan can't be changed, it prevents the brainpower of the future from working; the people who are affected by the plan in the future, even the planners themselves are prevented from improving parts of the organization that are already planned.

Picking on the old Soviet Union again, Which is fun, since they were such a menacing foe and spectacular failure, one could point to their habit of '5-year plans'. Since 5 years can contain many unpredictable events, it's no surprise than many of these plans were failures.

But the plans that can be the most dangerous are ones so ancient that failure to follow them is considered evil or blasphemous. Many religions set forth ambitious plans for their spread across the world. Islam in particular has rules and plans on how to deal with infidels who don't follow their religion. Their plan was for an ever expanding Islamic empire, which seemed to work fine during Mohammad's lifetime, but has gone somewhat astray since then. But these plans are still in writing, and people strive to follow them to the detriment of themselves and others; the Islamic terrorists are the prime example of this.

You can't really discuss Islamic terrorists without discussing their long-time enemies, the Zionists, who are represented by Israel today. The Israelis are following ancient plans as well; they wish to return to the Holy land, which inconveniently is occupied by rather uncooperative Muslims. Is it really the divine duty of Jews to return to Israel? Could Israel realy accomadate all the Jews in the entire world; it seems too small.

Two groups of people who seem to worship the same god are embroiled in non-stop slaughter because they are following obsolete plans.

Planning that allows for change can harness the brainpower of the future. If the planners are willing to change the plans when conditions make it desirable or necessary to, then they are trusting not only their current decisions, but their future decisions as well. And it doesn't mean its necessary to scrap the entire plan. For example, Jews and Christians have moved beyond ancient plans that forbade eating non-fish seafood, but still agree that adultery and murder are to be avoided.

Planning can limit brainpower in the time domain, allowing the people of the past to prevent the people of the future from using their brainpower for the organization.

The US constitution is an example of a plan than balances the need for planning with the need to adapt to change. The ability to amend the constitution prevented the founding fathers from forbidding future americans from making decisions based on changing circumstances. The constitution also differes from other codes of law by stating that powers not specifically granted to the central government belong to the states and the people.

Central planning can make any organization stupid in both time and space.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Why the Future May Not Look Futuristic

Visions of the future, such as 'Star Trek' or 'Blade Runner' often show a world where technology covers everything. Walls are alive with pipes, circuits, lights, and other very functional things. Buildings often have exposed evidence of 'high tech' things, more pipes, antennas, etc... Dramatic scenes are shown in computer rooms with huge equipment everywhere. Vehicles are often festooned with funtional-looking gadgets. Of course these sort of tech-decorations are used to make things look different and dramatic, but our future seems to be headed in a different direction.

But the big story these days is not big, visable technology, it is small tech that can look pretty much like the designer wants it to. Most computers are small, and the big ones are never in the same room as their users, unless there is a deliberate effort to have the setting look cool (The now obsolete Connection Machine was covered with blinkenlights mostly for dramatic effect). Pretty much the only part of most computers that is visually interesting is what's on the screen. If a computer looks like anything other than a box it's because the designer wanted it to, not because there was a functional reason for doing so.

The only 'futuristic' addition to the skyline that really came to be is antennas. The satellite dish is the premier object of sci-fi antenna art, and one of the few that is commonly seen in the real world. But even satellite antennas are getting smaller and less visable. Many communities, which probably suffer from a deficit of sci-fi fans that think antennas look cool, actively oppose the sight of antennas, so when its impossible to make an antenna to be small enough that nobody notices, the antenna installers go to great lengths to get them out of view. They use fake palm trees, or hide them in already-built towers such as church steeples or the tops of skyscrapers. So visable antennas are becoming a relic of the pre-cable TV days; There will still be antenna towers, but they will seem more like holdovers from the past than visions of the future.

In the 'Future' buildings will have all kind of amazing shapes, and will often be made of gleaming metal. Geodesic domes usually figure largely, and 'Archaic' materials such as wood and stone are rarely seen. While there are plenty of fancy and futuristic buildings, Airports are often very high-tech in appearance, most Americans still live in old Virginia style homes. High-tech metal and polymer sidings are carefully molded to look just like wood slat. Modern double-pane low-E glass windows are decorated with a grid so that they look like windows from the days when making a window-sized pane of glass was too much of a pain. No wires need to run all over the walls, because we have wireless networks. Dome shaped houses never caught on. Domes gave better structural strength, but so do new materials. Domes conserve heat better but so does modern insulation. The shape of the home often has more to do with style than necessity. Many buildings are made of metal, but gleaming exposed metal is more the hallmark of the warehouse district than the future. The 'House of the Future' could very well look like an Amish cottage, but still pack more tech than NASA ground control during the moon missions.

Futurists weren't all wrong, two very popular 'Futuristic' items really are decorating the 2000's. These are the flat screens and the blinkenlights. Unlike the movies, the blinkenlights are usually purely decorative. But now that bright colored lights that flash in custom patterns are cheap, they are popping up everywhere. Cars are decorated with lights that shine down on the street, many boxy PC's have lights to keep them from looking so pedestrian; Casemodding is the new hot-rodding. Cell phones light up like Las Vegas. Vegas itself has even more lights than before, some of which form huge video screens to show off ads for the latest Vegas shows. You can decorate yourself with all kinds of blinking jewelry too, especially if you are headed to a rave.

Flat-screen video tends to be a consistent vision of the future, at least after TV was invented. After all, who wants to waste space on anything other than the 'active ingredient' which is the screen? Capitalizing on visions of future past, these TV's are often the metallic silver that many 'future' objects are portrayed as being. In fact, the one thing that betrays the futuristicness of your high-tech olde Virginia house may be the big-screen TV shining through the window. Of course, nostalgia comes to all technologies, and flat-panel screens with wooden frames are beginning to appear on the market.

So the future isn't all it was thought to be, visually speaking, but in many ways it's better. After all, you still have the option to watch your huge flat-panel TV in a geodesic dome festooned with blinkenlights, but your could also look like you live in the 1800's without the indignity of actually having to go without your gadgets.

P.S. Cell phones are becoming more popular in Amish communities.

Making a Sacrifice to Get a Better Republican

George Bush Jr is a bit a of a disappointment as a president. His diplomacy skills are weak, and he's done several things that run counter to some Republican ideals. Republicans typically oppose big government, but Bush has created 2 all new bureaucracies, the TSA and the DHS. Republicans support state's rights, but Bush had the supreme court pull rank on Florida to counter unfounded fears that a recount would cause him to lose. Republicans often criticize 'Tax and Spend', but Bush has 'Improved' the concept by implementing 'Tax-Cut and Spend' spiking the federal deficits to record levels. Bush constantly honors Ronald Reagan, but his stem-cell policies are at odds with Nancy Reagan, who believes the research could benifit those who suffer from Alzheimer's. Bush is not a very good republican.

Keeping Bush in the white house will ultimately lead to higher taxes as his successor scrambles to pay off all that debt. But few self-respecting Republicans could bring themselves to vote for that boring JFK wanna-be that's running against him. Since the president always gets the nomination, It's not like Bush will be replaced with a smarter Republican at the last minute.

But suppose Bush wins. 4 years later, his successor may have to face a more charismatic Democrat than Kerry. Furthermore, there is the risk that Cheney may be the Republican candidate, and he's rather unpopular. But if Bush loses, Cheney probably won't run, and whoever runs will be facing Kerry, who is so uncharismatic that he wouldn't stand a chance against a competant Republican with less of a bad reputation than Cheney or Bush. Even if Cheney isn't to succeed Bush, a 4-year-from-now Republican will still have a weak opponent.

Since the Congress is Republican, it can keep any of Kerry's more unpopularly liberal ideas from being implemented while we wait till Kerry has to face someone less controversial and more charismatic than Bush.

My list of hopefuls to beat Kerry (personal opinion, these candidates may not run or be popular with the national party):

Linda Lingle, Governor of Hawaii. She was the first to break through inpenetrable Democrat dominance.
Christina Todd Whitman, former governer of New Jersey, former EPA; she has more respect for the environment than Bush.
Colin Powel, if he ever decides to run.

So push Hillary's presidential attempt back 4 years; Vote for Kerry!

Saturday, May 15, 2004

The Perfect Gateway Drug

Marijuana is often called a 'Gateway Drug' as a reason to keep it illegal, even though it's not as dangerous as known killers like cocaine and heroine. But to smoke Marijuana, you first have to accept the act of willfully inhaling pollution. Because Tobacco is legal and socially acceptable, at least for adults, it's often the first way kids learn to inhale pollution. Keeping it away from kids is important, but if adults continue to set a bad example by smoking, kids will inevitably sneak a few cigarettes to look more mature. Once the lungs are broken in to smoke, and the idea that addiction is acceptable and normal infects the mind, it makes it much easier for the kid to start with Marijuana or worse things to smoke.

The comic Doonesbury likes to point out that Marijuana has caused nearly no proven deaths, while tobacco has caused many. But the pot deaths may be masked by the tobacco deaths. The vast majority of people that I have known that smoked pot, also smoked tobacco. The drugs have complementary effects, nicotine stimulates, and THC relaxes; One person I know used to smoke a cigarette to get energy for surfing, then smoke a joint after surfing to relax. A famous marijuana non-inhaler is known for his love of cigars and the various uses thereof. Tobacco smoke is often used to mask the less legal smell of marijuana smoke. Pot isn't the gateway, its the second gate.

There's an anti-drugs ad that shows a picture of a homeless man with a caption "It doesn't always end like this", followed by a picture of a joint being lit, with the caption "But it usually begins like this.". One thing I've noticed about many of the homeless in my town is that they almost all smoke cigarettes. Many of them suffer from drug problems; how many of them learned to accept addiction and inhale smoke due to tobacco?

Politically speaking the parties are divided on the war on drugs. Democrats and Greens want to protect pot smokers and growers, while Republicans tend to protect tobacco smokers and growers. Efforts to ban public smoking are often seen as 'liberal', and Tobacco companies tend to be close allies and financial supporters of the Republicans. Of course, both parties oppose the really dangerous stuff, but they are actually paving the way for addiction by each party holding open one of the twin gateways.

Tobacco is so popular that banning it outright is impossible. In a democracy, once a certain portion of the population does something, it's a permanent part of society. Nevada originally permitted gambling because most people in the sparsely inhabited desert either did it or tolerated it, so it was never outlawed. However, the government can help by not supporting it. Does it really make sense to tax it on one hand, but subsidize the farmers of tobacco on the other hand? Are they afraid that the share of domestically produced cigarettes will fall? What's wrong with that; it just means that less useful farmland is wasted on addictive drugs. Public smoking bans are a step in the right direction. It keeps the smoke out of the office, and maybe it helps the homeless have more opportunities to bum some free butts. Political support for tobacco sabotages the war on drugs. Perhaps if politicians were required to give pot the same legal standing as tobacco, maybe support for tobacco would go up in smoke.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

The Logic of Gaming

Video games, like most other forms of entertainment, are designed to trigger our emotions, to give us a sense of fun and excitement. The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes raw emotions like this. But to develop maturity and logic, the Prefrontal cortex of the brain must be developed. It develops more slowly than the amygdala. The thrill of a game comes from the amygdala, but what does it take to win a game?

Games of all kinds, from Chess to Mortal Kombat, are defined by a set of logical rules, and sometimes a chance factor; Part of the chance factor may come from the though patterns of your opponent. When it comes to winning, the prefrontal cortex matters more than the amygdala. The adrenaline rush of sport might give you strength to win a test of strength (if panic doesn't sap your skill too badly), but it will do you no good whatsoever at a non-athletic game. The only time emotion does you any good for winning, is when you can use it against your opponent; making your poker opponent to afraid to risk another raise, for example. To win, use your logic, and let your opponent's emotions work in your favor.

In a one-player game or a puzzle, an opponent's emotion is no longer a factor. It's now just a matter of chance, logic, and your ability to let your prefrontal cortex dominate your amygdala. A horror game like Eternal Darkness, or Resident Evil is perfect for training level-headedness. These games try as hard as they can to trigger your emotions and make you afraid like in a horror movie. But you can just sit back and enjoy having survived the thrills and chills of the latest horror flick. In the games, you have to rise above this simulated fear and use your logic. The fear can be very real, although it has more to do with a fear of losing rather than a fear of dying.

Though video-games tend to dwell more on cinematic emotion-tweaking than sports, puzzles, or other types of games, games and sports in general force you to use logic and rise above crude emotions to be a winner. But you can't just watch other people play, you have to play to get the benefits.

The bottom line is that games can help you act more mature; maturity is often defined by being rational rather than reacting to primitive emotions. Even the most passionate lovers must use reason and logic to learn how to get along with each other. An investor must overcome greed and panic over falling stock prices to use enough strategy to gratify the greed and elude the feared losses. Emotions motivate, but logic finishes the job.

Games are often considered kid's stuff, but even the most childish of games can help us become adults.

Game on!