Saturday, March 03, 2007

Quote of the Day - March 3, 2007

There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is having lots to do and not doing it.

- Andrew Jackson


The Scotty Complex

Many engineering projects seem to suffer from the Scotty Complex. On Star Trek, Kirk (management) would often steer the ship (the project) into situations that would make life difficult for poor Scotty (the engineers). For instance, they would enter a situation that would put a strain on the warp engines, but because Kirk refused to stock up on dilithium crystals on the last supply run due to budgetary constraints, they’re down to their last one. Scotty insists the engines can’t take it. Kirk insists that they must, the laws of time and space not withstanding. If something goes wrong as a result, Kirk expects Scotty to fix it in the time Kirk demands, no matter how long it should actually take (“That’ll take me at least 3 months, an entire research staff, and a considerably bigger budget, Cap’n.” “You have one hour, a yeoman, and the money currently in your own wallet.”) But Scotty, being a good little engineer, somehow manages to come through every time. And because of this, Kirk is spoiled into to thinking that Scotty can compensate for even the most uninformed and fool-hardy decisions he could ever make.

But what if Scotty were one of those people who hated to work or hated their boss (or both). “Scotty, the Captain’s trapped down on the planet. They’re about to execute him, and the transporters aren’t working!” “I was going to get to that after lunch.” “But, the Captain…” “Yeah, when’s the last time he gave me a promotion? I’ll be in the break room.” One or two captains later, Scotty would be promoted to his own command where Starfleet would hope he could do less damage. Either that, or Starfleet would place him on ships that they secretly dislike in the hopes that he would bring them down through sheer lack of will. “Scotty, the engines are down and we’ve got Klingons on our tail!” “Hold on, let me check my E-bay auctions real quick.”

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Quote of the Day - March 2, 2007

I don't have a problem with caffeine. I have a problem without caffeine!

The Reconfigurable Robot

A modular robot is under development that would be able to form itself into many different kinds of robots. Each module is a self-contained unit (like a cell, only bigger) that can merge with other units to form anything from wheels to snakes to walking humanoids. The modules can communicate with one another so that each module knows what its role in the larger structure is. The modules can also find each other and either connect with or disconnect from each other as necessary. No central processor is needed. In fact, you could almost program a single module with knowledge of what needed to be built and he would go connect to other modules and spread the knowledge to all of his comrades. "Form feet and legs; form arms and body; and I'll form the head!" No one module would necessarily have to be in charge. It would instead be a collective.

Imagine if we could shrink these modules down to the size of a living cell. Suddenly, the T1000 isn't so far fetched. An entity composed of such modules would not cease to function when dealt what would be a devastating blow to a biological organism. To regenerate, undamaged modules would reconfigure themselves around the damaged area. Additional, undamaged modules would be necessary to do a full repair, but perhaps it would just make itself a few inches shorter to address damage that could effect its ability to move around in its environment. ("I appear to be missing a leg. Well, I think I can live with being 4'10" instead of 6'1".")

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Inappropriate Dinner Conversation

This post is rated PG-13 for adult content.

(She's doing adult content now? Next she'll be swearing and drinking!) Hush, you.

At a Super Secret Happy Hour in an undisclosed location (where I consumed copious amounts of Pepsi and a disagreeable taco), a truly baffling topic dominated the conversation for much of the evening. Apparently, earlier in the day, one of the attendees (whom, for the purposes of this post, we shall call Bacchus) had declared that, should he embark upon a trip to Alpha Centauri to build a new society, his minimal requirements would include, not female companionship (not even his wife), but a 4 GB RAM stick containing, shall we say, explicit material. Women, he posited further, would soon become obsolete. Technology would be able to fulfill all of man’s needs.

Robots would serve him food, pick out his clothes, balance his checkbook, and do everything else that the women in his life had thus far done for him. And the RAM stick would do what little the robots… couldn’t. Did I mention “inappropriate”? I did? Good. Moving right along. He would even have robots raise children, which would be incubated by a machine and generated from pre-existing zygotes. By the time he reached Alpha Centauri, he would have a whole team of young, healthy people who had been trained during the flight to build his new colony entirely populated by males.

But Bacchus’ woman-less world has many problems. In fact, his world is more apt to be male-less. First, if this were a female-only society rather than a male-only society, the technology to incubate a fetus for the needed amount of time would be unnecessary. You would, of course, still have the problem of eventually running out of the original zygotes, which would force you to turn to cloning to continue the species. But the female-only society once again has benefits over the male-only society here because the male-only society would not only have to have the technology to create the incubators but also an artificial egg to populate with the cloned DNA. A female-only society would have natural eggs ready to go, no new tech needed.

The other problem is the one I brought up here. I even specifically addressed this to Bacchus: Without women to motivate men to do something other than watch the content of the RAM stick, how could you possibly build a society? He paused, then said “You may have a point.” But that was not the end of it, no. His solution was not to reintroduce women to society but to use the RAM stick as a reward for constructive contribution to society. In other words, the RAM stick would replace women even in the capacity of denying men their pleasure when they haven’t done what they are supposed to.

But who controls the RAM sticks? Does the computer decide who’s been a productive citizen? You know someone would figure out how to hack into that. Do you put a person in charge? How do you decide who that person is? And wouldn’t that put an awful lot of power into the hands of one individual? Better to distribute that power among many. But those many would not be able to access the RAM stick without also giving permission to someone else to access the RAM stick. So, how exactly is this better than having women?

I’m still trying to figure out if having this conversation was better or worse than talking about work, which is what we usually do.

(As a side note, someone sitting beside Bacchus gets bonus points for asking “If the RAM stick dies, does it get 72 MB of unused memory?”, which was made even more hilarious by the fact that Bacchus didn’t get it.)

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Quote of the Day - February 26, 2007

The beatings will continue until morale improves.


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Quote of the Day - February 25, 2007

Sleep is a symptom of caffeine deprivation.

- Anonymous

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