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Decipher SciFi decadal review

Decade in Review: privacy, computing everything, and torture toilets

No spoilers this week! Just looking at all the scientific discoveries of the past decade and how that has or hasn’t played into the scifi we’ve covered.

1. Privacy & Cyberpunk

… and the illusion thereof. Snowden and the shattering of the illusion of privacy in the digital age. The world becoming the less awesome-looking irl version of cyberpunk. Workers as a resources. Torture toilets.

2. Machine learning

The biggest huge development in the pats decade which underlies every other things. Wowzers. Realizing the importance of the data going in, so you don’t get racist policing or image recognition. The availability of open tools, compute time, and learning resources.

3. Genetic editing

CRISPR! What will eventually result from this one?

4. Space

Water on Mars! So much more water than we thought. Greater accuracy in portrayals of space settlement. Increasing private industry in space.

5. Physics

Hey, an update on Einstein: still correct! Also… Gravity waves! Higgs-Boson! Imaging a black hole. The contributions of computing and storage technologies.

39. Human history

Confirmation of Sapiens and Neanderthal interbreeding in remaining modern humans. Discovering more extinct human varieties.

53. Technology

What happened to AR glasses!? The state of wearables. Recognizing that there are senses to augment other than our visual system.

Ad Astra movie backdrop

Ad Astra: nuclear spaceships, the edge of the solar system, and space monkeys

Science…?!

Some things are more art than science sometimes.

Structures anchored to geostationary orbit

“Space antennas” but what kind of signal would benefit from this design? X-Rays? Why would this not be better off in orbit? The structure sure looks a lot like a space elevator. Space elevators and geostationary orbital masses.

Falling from space

It’s hard to steer without sufficient atmospheric density. Felix Baumgartner’s jump “from space.”

High energy blasting

Antimatter nonsense. Our increasing fragility in the face of an unlucky coronal mass ejection. Protecting infrastructure both inside and increasingly outside our atmosphere.

Moon settlement

Moon surface settlements vs moon gateways vs embarking to The Moon from low Earth orbit. Awesome moon buggy chases. Pirates!

Mars settlement

Communicating with and from Mars. Interplanetary distance and comms speed. Building settlements within Martian or Lunar lava tubes.

The heliopause

Finding the “edge” of our star system. Difference in concentration of high energy particles.

SETI

Looking for signs of life around other stars. Taking pictures of black holes. Planet-sized telescopes. The absurd distances from Earth to other stars. Vegemite in Australia. Absent of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Nuclear spaceships

Project Orion. Blowing up your spaceship because it doesn’t have a nuclear bomb-ready push plate.

Ad Astra: iTunes | Amazon

Men in Black international movie backdrop

Men in Black International: Eiffel, backfilling memory, space hacking

Eiffel

LPT: you can get pommes frites in Europe. Could Eiffel have been an agent? The history of the Eiffel tower. The Eiffel Tower’s science history. Cosmic rays. Wireless telepraphy (radio). Outliving its intended lifespan.

Aliens

Which government agency should you be applying to in order to research alien stuff? Remembering the MiB is an NGO.

Space tracking

Increasing ability to track nearby space objects. Tracking objects in our solar system’s plane. The difficulty of tracking interstellar objects. Being a good space neighbor. Confirmed tracked interstellar objects. Failing to pronounce “ʻOumuamua.”

justin: dude
Danzig lives next door to me in l.a.
down the street
and he is the worst neighbor ever

justin: so he has this huge pile of bricks in his front yard
and the house looks like an evil pixar house
so anyway, his neighbor was like, “dude, danzig your bringing property values down with these bricks in your yard.”
and danzig was pissed
so anyway, back and forth with his neighbor and danzig
and finally one day
i see danzig outside
in his front yard
and he’s hurling bricks into this drumpster and he’s screaming, “HERE I AM MOTHERFUCKER, JUST CLEANING UP MY FUCKING BRICKS BITCH!”
Just super loud
to no one in particular
for two hours
it was amazing
like, i couldn’t even think about other things
because it was so amazing

me: oh my god
this is amazing

justin: dude
it blew my mind
because it was danzig as just a really poor homeowner

Space security

Hacking satellites! Actually totally possible and has happened. Air Force satellites at DEFCON. DDoS in space. The possibilities for catastrophy in hacking things in space. The many ways an attacker could damage or destroy our space telescopes.

Stars!

Blue giants! They’re rather large, and luminous. And hot. Capturing star energy. Kardashev scales.

Memory

The tendency of our minds to backfill missing information. Using neuralizers without providing a cover story is probably actually good enough, really.

Links

Men in Black: human gestation, stimulants, and Earth as backwater w/ Liam ginty: Decipher SciFi
Isaac Arthur: YouTube

Star Trek Voyager backdrop

Star Trek Voyager: water, galactic scales, and coffee replicators

Setup

Cross-galaxy teleportation macguffins. The Delta quadrant. Where are the Borg!?

Species

The Kazon, aka less-good, less-organized Klingons. Were Klingons racist? Or the Ferengi? Or the Kazons?

Water

The availability of water in star systems. Exoplanet surveys and water-rich gas giants.

Voyager

Yay Janeway! Comparing with the original actress. Imagining a Star Trek/Too Many Cooks crossover.

Replicators and teleporters

The most incredible Star Trek technology of all. Teleporter failure rates: very low, or actually 100%?

Scales

Galaxy Scale. “Quandrants” actually refer to “quarters of the galaxy” which blew Christopher’s mind slightly (like this guy). And here is a map. Putting speed limits on the universe.

Links

The Orville: iTunes | Amazon | Hulu

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Lockout: plagiarism, space shuttle design, and how to skydive… from space!

Plagiarism

John Carpenter, this movie, and Escape from New York plagiarism. Metal Gear Solid also as an Escape ripoff. Running popular media through a “Hideo Kojima filter” to see what comes out.

Space Shuttles

Side-mounting your spacecraft. Flying  a brick. Deorbiting and landing in the space shuttle’s “orbiter.” Wiggle-worm descent. Having only one chance because all of your fuel was spent getting out of orbit. Returning to shuttle-like designs with mag-lev mountain-ramps.

Inert gas asphyxiation

Nitrogen! Biologically inactive gas asphyxia vs potentially-toxic: CO2, CO, etc. Hypoxia.

Falling out of space

The slim odds of hitting the ISS when accidentally de-orbiting. Space is… small? Understanding what “orbit” really means. HALO/HAHO jumping, Baumgartner’s Stratos jump, and the incredible difficulty of jumping out of orbit ffs. Copyrighting all of the “totally radical” stunts.

Breaking the sound barrier

The difference in the “speed of sound” at different atmospheric densities. Terminal velocity at high altitudes. Air is more “sticky” than you might expect. Why didn’t Felix Baumgartner “burn up” on reentry?

Orbital decay

“Jumping down” from a space station and how that is not sufficient for deorbiting. Megaconstellations and space junk.

Links:

How to Land the Space Shuttle… from Space by Bret Copeland: YouTube
Escape From New York: Decipher SciFi

Ryan Gosling First Man space launch backdrop

First Man: moon rocks, moon lasers, and the edge of space

One Small Step

Worrying the minimum amount about your speech. The difficulty of quoting noisy radio transmissions.

Because it is haaaahd

Recognizing the small temporal distance from the first powered flight to the first moon landing. The cutting edge of the early space program. Test piloting. Gemini.

The edge of space

Defining the edge of space. The “Karman Line”: transition from atmospheric lift to orbital velocity. Complications and redefinition of where “space” begins. Geopolitics, ruining everything since forever.

The “right stuff”

Badass engineer pilots. Moving fast and breaking things. Selection testing. Giving prospective astronauts ice-water wet willies. The importance of simulation in the early space program and the difficulty of simulating things we haven’t actually ever done or seen up close.How hard it really is to stay conscious under high-g stress.

Moon landing

Monocular depth cues. Light and shadow, unfamiliar objects, and depth perception. Equatorial noon on the equinox when stuff looks creepy: Lahaina Noon.

Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment

Retroreflectors and really really powerful lasers. Tiny photonic returns: 1 out of every 10¹⁷ photons shot at the moon mirror make it back for our detection. Multi-mile laser beams. Confirming relativity ftw.

ROCKS

… from the moon! And some regolith to boot. Vacuum transport for moon samples and how we work with them on Earth’s surface without contaminating. The difficulty of maintaining a a very strong vacuum vs nonreactive gasses. Detecting the provenance of proposed moon rocks. NASA’s moon-rock cataloguing system.

Moon-landing video

Viewership numbers. NASA’s custom video encoding and the incredibly analog conversion methods employed to bring it to television.

What if

What if it didn’t work out? The Nixon speach made ready just in case. “In Event of Moon Disaster.”

What now

Why we have no rockets now to match the power of the Saturn V. Loss of engine-production expertise. Looking at near-future Moon and Mars missions.

Links:

Where does NASA keep the Moon Rocks? by Smarter Every Day: YouTube
Apollo Television by Bill Wood: NASA

Star Trek IV – The Journey Home: whale margarine, transparent aluminum, and time travel

Star Trek

Best Star Trek movies. Liking things because they are familiar. The odd-even Star Trek movie rule. Mathematical proofs. Dismissing the reboots.

Cosmic horror

Giant cylinders and plumbuses. Finding out you are as an ant in the universe. Spreading across space and building giant robot suits to fight the larger incomprehensible creatures.

Time travel

Using time travel to solve problems despite the consequences. Time travel anachronism stories. Bad time-travel sales pitches. The Mooreeffoc Effect. Would you go to the future? Only going forward because medicine in the past is always so bad. Time travel vaccinations.

Whales

The possibility of cetacean “language.” “Save the whales” in the 80s. Whale oil being supplanted by kerosene as industrial fuel. Stinky whale candles. The Napoleonic origins of margarine and the economics of fuel and margarine. Industrialized whaling. “Factory ships.” Realizing we are running out of whales. Continued industrial whaling, namely by Japan and some of the Nordic countries.

Links

A bunch of Wikipedia articles: Whaling | Whale Oil | Margarine
Moby Dick by Herman Melville: iTunes | Amazon

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

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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

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Dolphin communication, the babelfish, and bad AI

Adaptations

Appreciating the book(s). Bigtime. Adapting Douglas Adams. Remembering the text adventure video game exists.

Dolphins

Dolphin intelligence. It’s not about how smart they are, it’s about how they’re smart. Mammalian sameness as an avenue into better understanding life in the sea. Dolphin communication. Dolphin “language” and the possibility of translation. The Dolphin C.H.A.T. interface.

Betelgeuse

Big star! Red supergiant, 9th brightest in our sky. “Brightness” outside the visible spectrum. Dying stars gnoshing on their planets before going off.

Life form dominance

Metal boxes, taking over the planet and slowly digesting the soft squishy things inside them. Street Fighter-style car-breaking. How to judge the “top” species of a world.

Babel fish

Universal translators. A visit from Nick Farmer from the past, when we asked him about universal translators in our Q&A #2.

Space is big

Mind-bogglingly big! The bigness of space and the difficulty in finding a sense of scale from a human perspective.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

-Douglas Adams

AI

Doors deriving sexual pleasure from providing their service. Polar opposite extreme AI demeanors. Deep Thought and AI constraints.

Links:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy The Game: BBC Radio 4
DRONE Solar System Model by Mark Rober: YouTube
VFX Artist Reveals the True Scale of the Universe by Corridor Digital: YouTube