The Future part 2: Why Star Trek is good and not shit

In the first post in this series I lamented the lack of optimistic science fiction. Of course that was an exaggeration, optimistic science fiction is popular, but I can’t help but wonder why it is less popular than the standard cautionary tales. Especially when it is so well written.

The future depicted In Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars does not sound like the future – it feels like the present. Sure, its plot involves mankind colonising Mars and developing a new society, but it reads and feels like a contemporary novel. On the front of my paperback copy is a quote from the Daily Mail newspaper calling it “the ultimate in future history”, and that’s exactly what it is. Robinson writes as if this future already exists, a future in which we have taken the first baby steps away from our crib and begun living on another planet. Though the journey is extremely rocky, as building any new civilisation will be, the very act of writing it as a future history makes it one of the most optimistic science fiction stories I have ever read. After reading it, optimism almost feels misplaced – the future history presented seems so inevitable that such optimism feels as silly as being hopeful that the sun will rise tomorrow.

In the realm of optimistic science fiction however, there is one story that towers above all the others, perhaps not in its execution, but in the fervour of its optimism. It depicts a world where mankind has solved its petty differences and no longer wars amongst itself. It depicts a world where hunger, poverty, and even money itself do not exist. It depicts a world where culture, science, art and exploration are our primary goals.

That world is the world of Star Trek.

Sure, the ideal future painted in Star Trek is overly saccharine and sometimes strains credulity. A world where money does not exist, and people pursue their careers simply to better themselves? Who does all the laundry? And for christ’s sake haven’t they heard of seat belts in the twenty fourth century? Why are all the bridge officers flailing around and falling over whenever their ship gets attacked? But if you can overlook its flaws and believe it, then Star Trek truly paints a future worth striving for.

I could extol the virtues of Star Trek at length. I could talk about the wonderful acting (yes really), the superb plots, and the characters that worm their way under your skin; but I wont. At this point you are either singing “amen” with me, or derisively shaking your head. All I will say is this – watch it. Watch one episode. Go away and watch The Next Generation episode, The Inner Light, then come back and tell me Star Trek is shit. You can find that episode buried inside this torrent, or just ask me if you want to borrow it.

But this post and the one before it are not about Star Trek, they are about the future. However it is my interest in science fiction, particularly Star Trek, that has given me my obsession with the future of our race.

It is this obsession with the future that has made me the man I am today. I am an environmentalist because I care about our future. I endorse the advancement of science, education and the death of ignorance because I care about the future. I follow the progress of space exploration because I see a future in which we outlive the planet we were born on and the solar system in which it resides. I care about the politicians we elect because these leaders will help shape the future for us all.

My desire to have children one day is inexorably intertwined with my vision of the future. I will raise them as if this future already exists.

I often come across as a hopelessly cynical person, but the cynicism I express about the present is fuelled entirely by the hope I feel for the future. I see the world not as it is now, but as it will be, as it should be now. It is as though I am a time traveller from this ideal future, experiencing the present with a sense of horror at how archaic, ignorant and unjust it is.

Ultimately the future of mankind is unclear, but two outcomes are certain; we will either exist forever or we will perish. In order to exist forever we must become a better society, and we must start thinking about the future, not just our own, but the future of our whole race. Then we must act to create this future for ourselves. We will exist or we will die, there is no middle ground. It is for this reason I am optimistic; we are nothing if not self preserving.

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Anything for a good cause

I use this blog to push my own personal agenda on the world. Politics, computer security, skepticism or even my taste in music, it all is blogged or bitched about. But sometimes you need to stop bitching, get off your arse and do something.

At work we recently volunteered at meals on wheels, a non profit organisation supplying hot meals to the elderly and infirm. Getting up at dawn and engaging in manual labour is not something I am very accustomed to, but I found the kitchenhand duties very rewarding. Aside from knowing I was helping out my local community, it was just nice to be able to acheive something concrete at the end of a day. In the software engineering game your deadline is always weeks or months away, you toil away on bits and pieces, but it’s not until it all comes together that any sense of accomplishment comes. Seeing all those little hot packed meals go out the door gave me the same feeling, and it only took a few hours! It was also nice to work on something requiring less concentration, in a communal environment where we could all socialise. The other full time volunteers made it a lot of fun.

So that’s one good deed down, but why stop there? Perhaps something a little less exerting though… something that requires less effort… ahh I’ve got it! MOVEMBER!

Movember concepts

Traditionally Movember – the practice of growing a moustache in November – is done just for shits and giggles, so it has always seemed a bit naff to me. This year however it has been taken up under a banner of legitimacy and is being used to raise awareness (and cash) for men’s health issues, namely prostate cancer and depression. Each year many men die from prostate cancer which could have been prevented if they had only had it examined earlier. Many men also suffer from depression but don’t seek help until it is too late. By being part of Movember you can help raise awareness for these issues. All you have to do is stop shaving that upper lip! Of course you could always register on the official website and raise some cash for the cause as well. Now if only I could decide between the handlebar and the Fu Manchu…

One final cause I am getting up and active for is the walk against warming, happening this Sunday. I hope some of you will show your support and march with me!

Policies not Politicians

When I vote in the upcoming election, I wont be voting for John Howard. I wont be voting for Kevin Rudd. I wont be voting for Bob Brown. I will be voting for the Liberal party, or the Labour party, or the Greens. As much as the media spits the Howard vs Rudd angle at us, to me it’s about the parties as a whole. It’s about policies, not politicians.

My decision will not be informed by grandstanding, stunts or slander on an individual. My decision will be based entirely on the policies of each party, and how strongly I agree or disagree with them. This is where the Greens have got it right – on their website you can find a handy list of all their major policies. Go through it and see if you agree with them – or not – and then you can easily decide if the Greens are for you. I gave up trying to find a list of policies on both Liberal and Labour’s websites after about five minutes of navigational nightmare.

Personally I will be voting for the Greens, even though I strongly disagree with their rather limiting policies on genetic research. Curiously, their policies on human genetic research are conspicuously absent while their policies on plant and animal research are rather prominent. Hmmm. Still, the rest of their policies on social and environmental reform I like, so they’ll be getting my vote.

Of course then there’s always the Senator Online party, they have no policies at all. They will simply put each proposed senate bill on their website, and let the public vote aye or nay. However the public votes, they will vote, essentially turning every bill into a referendum. Sounds like democracy to me!

Why most MCs are suckas

Tonight I was driving home from tennis and listening to 3D Radio’s hip hop show, Premium Blend. The three songs that accompanied me on the journey had great music, a nice rhythm and well delivered vocals. If I wasn’t actually listening to the lyrics I would have really enjoyed them.

I like hip-hop music. I don’t like hip-hop culture. Why? Most MCs live in a self-referential world. Their lyrics can usually be boiled down to the following:

  • I am awesome
  • Other MCs suck
  • Name drop Grandmaster Flash / Run DMC
  • Did I mention that I am awesome?

I am sick to death of MCs rapping about themselves and their own culture. It’s nihilistic and, dare I say it, inbred. The greatest lyricists are the ones who can both be clever and identify with their audience. I hate to break it to you, but most of us out there aren’t MCs, DJs producers or breakdancers. We are people dammit! Hearing you rap about hip-hop is about as interesting as hearing you rap about about accounting.

Some might argue that they are identifying with their target audience, because their target audience is people immersed in hip-hop culture. It’s a fair point. I myself listen to MC Frontalot quite a bit because he targets a culture I am part of – geekdom. So I can give the poor MCs a bit of leeway in that regard. The thing I can not stomach is when MCs repeatedly drop their own name in their songs. In no other art form is this hubris tolerated. Frontalot is guilty of this too, even if his tongue is firmly in his cheek:

MC frontalot is not installed
so don’t call 800-FRONT4ALL
off the ball of wax, to rock the rough tracks
thumbtacks all up in the mix so relax
I hacks a beat together like a slasher rampage
mc frontalot is inundated by the rhythm arrays
some days I brag some days I boast
24/7 I front the most

you wouldn’t think that I would front
most days do nothing but
sit around dropping the lyrics into the drum cuts
buts, ands, ors, I hear naysay
don’t play! mc front’ll get offended, go away
hey now, there’s no need to be real
honk honking on the sample like a trained m-seal
we all seek a second steppin from the post
24/7 I front, I front the most

Ridiculous, isn’t it?

Update
Ugh, just got back from the macromantics gig. I can’t believe she actually dropped the lyric “You are wack, I am dope”. Of course there was also the obligatory self-references – she even felt the need to spell out her stage name letter by letter just in case we didn’t get it the first time. Or the fortieth. Fortunately there were no Grandmaster Flash / Run DMC references, but then again we did leave half way through…

Pretty Good Privacy, Pretty Crap Interoperabillity

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Email sucks.

Once there was a time when the personal computer did not exist. A time when there were only mainframes and terminals to access them. Some bright spark eventually decided it would be a neat idea to connect them together. After a bit of this another luminous individual thought hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could send funny little messages between them. Thus email was born, and therein lies the problems with it. The creators of the simple mail transfer protocol had no idea the extent to which the whole of society would eventualy come to depend on their technology.

Email, like so much of the framework of the internet, is a forty year old hand me down, patched and mended so many times there isn’t a shred of original cloth left. It is a garment that no longer fits – we have outgrown it.

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Supermode, Tell Me Why (you have no talent)

Recently while listening to FreshFM I heard Supermode’s Tell Me Why. Normally FreshFM would not be the kind of station I listen to but but a good friend of mine works there and I was trying to catch her on air.

Supermode’s track is nothing but a mashup of Bronski Beat‘s 1984 hits Smalltown Boy and Tell Me Why. It demonstrates a complete lack of talent on behalf of the “artists” as nothing original was added except a boring go-kart themed film clip. I could have written a better remix of Smalltown Boy when I was fifteen.

In fact, that’s exactly what I did do.

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My DRM-less Dream

A while ago my brother’s car was broken into. Among the items stolen was a copy of b(if)tek‘s 2020. Feeling that he already had the rights to the music, he looked in the usual places for an MP3 replacement. Unfortunately no buried treasure was found on the shores of the pirate bay. He then decided to look into more official channels, but I warned him of the perils involved in navigating their dangerous waters.

I have a dream. A dream of a music service unemcumbered by the poison of digital rights management. Where people can play a song not only on the computer they used to download it, but also on their laptop, their MP3 player, their car stereo and every other device they own.

I dream of a music service where I choose the format of the songs I download. A music service supporting every container and codec ever conceived.

I dream of a single, comprehensive music service, accessible by all, and providing the complete works of every man, woman and child who ever wrote a song.

Okay that’s enough postulating, here’s how I see this service working.

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