Podcast

After Earth Will Smith Jaden Smith backdrop image

After Earth: pheromones, murder-birds, and language evolution

This movie

Not well reviewed. Will Smith’s “painful failure.” The real twist is the lack of explanation for things. Jaden Smith wisdom.

Accent and language

The future “language” in the film. The difference between accent and dialect. how languages change over time, by example. Trying to understand original spoken Shakespeare and generally succeeding. Trying to understand original spoken Beowulf and completely failing. The mutual intelligibility of Old Norse and Old English.

Creatures

Surprise! There are aliens and they want to kill us. Engineered animal-weapons (the “Ursa”). Improving the Ursa design: giving guns to blind animals for fun and profit. Komodo dragon-mode leeches. Evolving from parasite to hunter. The combat techniques of butt-spiking murderbirds (shrikes).

Phereomones

“Smelly handshakes.” Mammary pheromone response in human infants. Getting used to stinky things. Tales of accidental moth pheromone pranks.

Quarantine earth

Surprising evolutionary directions in the absence of humanity. Even a thousand years later, baboons still don’t appreciate getting hit with rocks.

Atmosphere

The dangers of low atmospheric oxygen. Using the top of Everest as marker for O2 danger. Climbing Everest in shorts.

Links

In Our Time – Pheromones: BBC
“Butchering Bird” (the shrike): YouTube
Eddie Izzard “Babies on spikes” bit without any context: YouTube
Lion scent-marking with non-scientific audio: YouTube

Back to the Future Part II movie backdrop

Back to the Future Part II: time travel options, retro futurism, and hip thrust combat w/ Daniel Barker

Likenesses

The legal precedent set by Crispin Glover’s lawsuit against the production; folks are more careful these days as a result. “Grandma Tarkin.”

"Grandma Tarkin" Star Wars satire speech-to-text meme

Rick & Morty

Rick & Morty’s original short lampooning Doc & Marty.

The future

The fun, friendly future where the alleyways are safer than the streets. Worrying about your future children and feeling disgusted by your teenage self. Pelvic thrusting fight technique.

Daniel James Barker with embarrassing scene kid hair

DJB back in the embarrassing teenage days

Time travel technique

Buying The almanac. Varieties of time travel: mutable, immutable, and branching. The way BTTF mixes these options at its leisure. The butterfly effect. Coping with the scale of possibilities. Strategic infanticide and Godwin’s Law.

Spacetime travel

Taking into account frames of reference. Appearing suddenly in near-vacuum if you don’t properly calibrate your time machine to also account for space travel. The importance of accurate time measurement e.g. Doctor Who The Movie. Destroying “the universe” but only the local area as causality here could not affect far away galaxies due to expansion. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Rational Optimism

Dan’s message welcoming Marty McFly to the future. Recognizing the overarching improvements in the wellbeing of humanity in the face of the negative newscycle.

Future things!

Bricking your self-lacing shoes. Keeping your shoes from joining a botnet. Self-smoking shirts. The periodic nature of futurism where “the future” always looks basically like now but with neato accessories. Hoverboard hoaxes and disappointments.

Links

Uncertainty Principle the Podcast: Soundcloud | The “Marty” Episode
VFXcool: Back to the Future Trilogy by Captain Disillusion: Part 1 | Part 2

Them! 1954 movie backdrop

Them!: nuclear optimism, amateur myrmecology, and Wilhelm-screaming w/ Joe Ruppel

Featuring guest co-host
Joe Ruppel Photo
Joe Ruppel, history nerd

Rise of the nuclear monsters

The era of nuclear nervousness and the nuclear monsters in cinema. “Take an object, and biggify it.” Nuclear power in the 1950s. The possibility of “unmetered” energy. White Sands, gypsum, and the Trinity test.

Nuclear optimism

The nuclear success hit list and the optimism of the early 50s. Recognizing downsides. Converting hydrogen into helium, but like really violently. Eclipses, occlusion, and we didn’t realize it at the time but Joe was right to use “occultation.” Las Vegas atomic bomb parties.

Nuclear fallout

The fallout from southern Nevada testing traveling directly as far as northeast Utah. The bitter, metallic taste of nuclear fallout. When Kodak accidentally discovered a-bomb testing.

A sense of scale

The scale of nuclear weapons since the first atom bombs. Considering the time when “duck and cover” made sense. Using NUKEMAP for a sense of scale.

Ants

Issues with upscaling. Myrmecology. Antennae and wayfinding. Evolutoniary history and their waspy ancestors. Ants as superorganism. Formic acid attack spray.

Links:

Them!: iTunes | Amazon Prime Video | YouTube
NUKEMAP: NuclearSecrecy.com
Decipher SciFi nuclear hot takes: WarGames | Superman IV

Aquaman Jason Mamoa backdrop

Aquaman: cetaceans, riding sea animals, and the bends

DCEU

Aquaman as a sign of possibility the of interesting things going forward in the DC Extended Universe. Sexy Jason Mamoa. Underwater Superman.

Atlantis

Unlimited power when everyone else thought the world was flat. Appreciating the innovation that was realizing the Earth was mostly spherical. Ancient Greek steam turbans. Eating raw fish and seaweed. the origins of sushi. The careful application of lava for removing parasites.

Sea mammals

Underwater echolocation. Communication by sound. The possibility of cetacean languages. Torpedo-shaped body plans and efficient insulation. Breathing fluids (but not sea water!).

Deep diving

Decompression sickness. Why you really don’t want bubbles in your fluids. The differing breath-holding techniques of whales at different depths. Whales that get decompression sickness.

Domesticating sea animals

The list of traits that make for good domesticatiion: “Friendly, feedable, fecund, and family-friendly” and how hard it might be to find the full set of traits in the ocean. The ultimate futility of trying to domesticate sharks.

Links:

Aquaman: iTunes | Amazon Prime Video | YouTube
Zebra vs Horses: Animal Domestication by CGP Grey: YouTube

The Matrix 1999 movie backdrop

The Matrix: green phosphors, neuroplasticity, and rejecting utopia w/ Adrian Falcone

Featuring guest co-host
adrian falcone headshotAdrian Falcone

This movie is awesome

It is! And also we’re old. But honestly this is still unironically the best thing. The legacy of the Matrix. Falling back in love with the Wachowskis. Addressing the sequels.

Cyberpunk

The Matrix as cyberpunk. Comparing against other touchstones. Philip K Dick. William Gibson’s review from the time.

When I began to write NEUROMANCER, there was no “cyberpunk”. THE MATRIX is arguably the ultimate “cyberpunk” artifact. Or will be, if the sequels don’t blow. I hope they don’t, and somehow have a hunch they won’t, but I’m glad I’m not the one who has to worry about it.

-William Gibson lol

Old school computing

Damn kids and their pixels. CRT displays and low/high persistence phosphorus and how we wound up irl with the bright glowing green text aesthetic that informed The Matrix. Eye fatigue back in the day. Computer-touchers. Staring at people at work for fun and profit. The Solarized color schemes.

The Matrix

Taking the red pill. How easy it actually really is to explain what The Matrix is. Neo is a giant, slimy baby. The inefficiencies of using humans as batteries when you have fusion power. Grass, tastes bad.

Benevolent AI Dictators

But WHAT IF The Matrix actually has humanity’s best interests in mind? The possibility that they really tried to give us our utopia.

Virtual worlds

Plasticity and your brain’s willingness to accept new input schemes. Designing The Matrix with a “failsafe” so the humans are unadapted to their physical bodies irl. Acquired synaesthesia. Supernumerary limbs and phallic cartwheels. Upside down goggles and adaptation to a new “up.” Permanence in sensory adaptations.

Hacking The Matrix

Bendable physics. The difficulty with bending or breaking the rules of computing hardware.

Links:

The Matrix: iTunes | Amazon Prime Video | YouTube
The Pizza Matrix (it’s terrible): YouTube
The Animatrix: iTunes | Amazon Prime Video | YouTube
The Backwards Brain Bicycle by Smarter Every Day: YouTube

Atlantis Disney movie backdrop

Atlantis: the Silurian hypothesis, ancient language, and updating the drake equation

Myth and history

Getting past the nonsense. The reasonable idea that civilizations have in fact existed and then fallen, without notice by modern study. Rocking Like a Hurricane in the B.C. era.

Human history irl

Humanity circa 10,000 years ago. The beginnings of civilization. Early agriculture. Making beer and eventually bread. How not to make bread by putting beer in the oven. More Rocking Like a Hurricane. Just invent pants, beer, and bread and you’re off to a really solid start. “Why are pants, different than shirts?

The Silurian Hypothesis

The Silurian Hypothesis. Imagining the difference in civilizational detectibility over hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Thinking like ze dolphin. Plastic permanence. Climate impacts written into geology. Radiological evidence.

Proto Indo European

The “Atlantean” conlang. Marc  Okrand and Klingon. Language before language was written down. How we figure out anything about a language from 6500 years ago that is no longer spoken and was never written down.

Links

Atlantis: iTunes | Amazon Prime Video
The Silurian Hypothesis: Would it be possible to detect an industrial civilization in the geological record?: arXiv.org

Prospect movie backdrop

Prospect: sleep rhythm, amputation, and meat-sack organic gemstones

Indie scifi

Impressive shoestring productions. Remembering Moon. Lived-in duct-tape science fiction.

Sleep cycles

Circadian rhythms. Setting our clocks by light exposure. Light exposure and activity levels. Wearing your sunglasses at night. Different varieties of blindness and sleep rhythms. Retinal sensitivity to light.

Space prospectin’

Alien meat-testicle gems. Personal testicular security systems. Organic gemstones. Pearl production. How attractive our kidney stones might be to alien speculators. “Real” utility vs perceived value.

Wound handling

Wound sealing. Stopping bleeding in an emergency with caulking foam. Packing a wound full of tiny tampons. Failed experiments in would sealing with: beads, marbles, beans, etc. Amputation history. Ancient Greek amputation practices and efficiency records in the Napoleonic and American Civil Wars.

Links:

Prospect: iTiunes | Amazon | YouTube

Superman 4 The Quest for Peace nuclear missile backdrop

Superman IV: Superman hair materials science, denuclearization, and pushing the moon w/ Jolene Creighton

Featuring guest co-host
Jolene Creighton headshot
Jolene Creighton, science communicator

A review

This was the best worst thing we’ve ever seen. I’m sorry. You’re welcome?

Space tricks

Leaving whole rocket stages to just kinda be in orbit and hit stuff. Talking in space by providing your own atmosphere thanks to your incredible, super lung capacity. Also, how that doesn’t work and Superman needs to be a close talker and hold conversations by vibrating his mouth directly on someone else’s spacesuit helmet.

Superman bodily materials

The hair that can hold at least a half ton. How does Superman cut his hair? Introducing weird gnarly alternate Superman with really long hair and uncut fingernails. Donating Superman’s bits to materials science. Making things out of hair. Totally realistic space elevator musings. Superman as a launch platform. Dissecting the Man of Steel for fun and profit. Using Superman for “free energy” (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal).

Super-denuclearization

Superman’s built-in orbital mechanics skills. The tiny bit of nothing that would be all of 1987’s nuclear world arsenal against the power of the sun. The relative tiny-ness of the only nuclear weapons ever used in war. Proposals for nuclear de-proliferation. Going Dr Manhattan on the problem.

A bunch of stuff oh god this movie was silly

Nuclear Man’s totally fab nails. The golden crotch-trim on his super suit. Plugging a volcano. Superman’s “brick vision.” Slowing things down, because the moon has “less gravity.” It’s obvious, really. The actual disasters that await us if Superman pushed the Moon away.

Links

Jolene Creighton: Future of Life
Superman IV: iTunes | Amazon
Superman IV deleted scene “Nuclear Man 1”: YouTube
Nukemap: Nuclear Secrecy

The Wandering Earth backdrop Jupiter

The Wandering Earth: altered goldilocks zones, Earth’s heat budget, and smuggling pickles in your pants

Life and death of a star

A hundred years to uninhabitability is a little bit quicker than we thought. Timelines here to red dwarf and all the unpleasantness in between.

Probing your star

The surprising difficulty of actually reaching the sun. The Parker Solar Probe. Taking a close peek at the corona and the young solar wind. Close as in millions of miles.

Moving Earth

Shifting circumstellar habitability zones. Moving the planet out nearer Jupiter as our sun expands. Throwing moderation to the wind and ditching the solar system. Tidal forces.

Planetary travel in deep space

Relativistic impact vulnerability. Appreciating Earth’s protected position within the heliosphere, blocked from impactors by two gas giants and its own moon.

Earth’s new home

Traveling across deep space with no sun. If you dig deep enough, mayyyyyyybe Kelvin’s “secular cooling” would keep everybody warm for the trip. Signing up for some eye shine. The three-body problem.

Going deep

Living underground. Shielding from the radiation and frigid cold of deep space with kilometers and kilometers of Earth. Learning to eat lots of algae, crickets, and fungus. Taking advantage of geothermal energy at depth. Dealing with Earthquakes while being under some of them. The safety of tunnels.

Space station

Smuggling pickles in your pants into space. And maybe some vodka or cognac. “Who wants a warm pickle?”

Links

The Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin: Amazon
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin: iTunes | Amazon
The AMAZING Design of the Parker Solar Probe by Smarter Every Day: YouTube

Q&A #4: Answering your questions and appreciating our friends

You folks asked us a bunch of questions. And we gave a bunch of answers!

I’ll leave the actual Questions and Answers to be listened to in the episode, but we did mention some resources etc which I’ll link below…

Past History coverage

To whet your appetite if you’re as excited as us about the possibility of Decipher History:

Podcasting advice

“Just make stuff!” But then for technical details for other Linux podcasters, my dotfiles (application configurations) are shared openly on Github. Files and scripts relevant specifically to our podcasting are probably all mentioned here.

Free software and licenses

Creative Commons and free software and making the world better by helping more people make their stuff.

Episode image made using:
A Nice Cartoon Guy Filming A Live Marketing Video by Free Clip Art, CC-BY-SA 4.0
Fake Studio by Josh Hallett, CC-BY 2.0