Here's part 11 of my home recording series; part 10 is here.
I wrote this song for some friends of mine who believed in a particular "New Age" religion that has long since dissolved. I didn't share their specific beliefs, but I do understand the frustrations that spurred them on.
As part of my efforts to understand more about the Russian culture, I recently purchased a book of Russian Fairy Tales. I think cultures use such stories as a way to teach their children core values, so I was quite surprised and very amused by some of the tales I've read so far.
For example, here is the synopsis of one fairy tale called Salt.
A merchant had three sons. The youngest son was called Ivan the fool. One day, he bought a cheap boat and went out to sea. After four days, he was blown to a remote island where he found a mountain of pure Russian salt. He loaded up his boat with the salt and traveled to another country hoping to trade it.
The country where Ivan landed had never seen salt before and did not value it. So he sneaked into the King's kitchen and put salt into his food. The King loved the improved taste so much he decided to buy all Ivan's salt for silver and gold. He also allowed Ivan to become engaged to his daughter, a beautiful princess.
When Ivan returned with his bride and riches, his brothers became jealous and kidnapped him. They took him out to sea and threw him overboard. In addition, the eldest brother stole his bride and arranged for her to marry him instead.
Ivan swam to a nearby island and was rescued by a giant. The giant carried Ivan on his shoulders back across the sea to his homeland, and told him that if he mentioned the rescue to anyone, the giant would kill him. Ivan promised he would keep it a secret, thanked the giant and walked back home.
When he got back home, he told his father about what had happened. The father was furious and drove the other brothers out of the house. Ivan was reunited with his bride and had a great celebration.
During the feast, Ivan got drunk and told a story about his rescue to the other revelers. Just then, the giant appeared and told Ivan that because he had broken his promise, the giant would have to kill him. Ivan told the giant that it was not him talking, it was his drunkenness.
The giant did not know the meaning of drunkenness, so Ivan commanded that the giant be given a hundred gallon barrel of wine and a hundred gallon barrel of beer. The giant drank it all, then wrecked the village and slept for three days and three nights.
When the giant awoke, he saw what he had done to the village and told Ivan that he now understood drunkness. Then he told Ivan than he would not kill him after all and he could talk about the rescue whenever he wanted.
If not too sure what the moral of this story is, but it might be having an effect on the consumption of Russian Vodka!
I just tried out Google Video to hunt down some movies taken during the famous US Gumball rally.
I particularly enjoyed one of a guy driving a Porsche Turbo against a Mercedes SL55 AMG and a Diablo. It's pretty funny, and gives you a feel for what such a rally is like. Here is the clip. And if you're interested in what Google is up to in general, here's a video of their 2005 factory tour event.
In Mars Wars part 1 and part 2 I sketched out some thoughts about Earth, Mars and the future of humanity. Since then, I've been working on a storyline that incorporates these ideas into a form that would make an enjoyable movie. As part of this process, I created a timeline of events that would get fleshed out into a storyboard. The final name of the story will be "Destiny".
Here it is. All feedback welcome.
Mars Wars Storyline (a.k.a. "Destiny") copyright 2005, Graham Glass
The present time. The Space Shuttle flies, but not often. The International Space Station stagnates with little investment. NASA creates proposals for another moon landing around 2018.
Stem cell research looks promising, but ethical issues delay USA federal funding.
China ramps up and looks like it will be the next world superpower.
Super-rich people from around the world gather for a secret meeting, codenamed "Genesis", to discuss the formation of an independent mission to colonize Mars and beyond.
They believe that the destiny of humanity is to create something better than itself, a digital lifeform that is not bound by the limitations of a biological body. They also believe that this work would be better done far from the bureaucracy of Earth.
Like the Pilgrim Fathers that founded the USA, they see a better future in a new land. The result of the Genesis meeting is hundreds of billions of dollars of private investment into the areas of space exploration, biology, and artificial intelligence.
The USA lands on the moon and shortly after establishes a permanent moonbase. For the first time, a parent can point to the moon on any night and tell their child that people live there.
Soon after the USA moon landing, the Chinese also land on the moon and establish their own moonbase.
Around the end of the decade, Zhen and Kurt are born. They are the main characters in the first half of this story. Zhen ("Precious") is born in China, the daughter of a Taikonaut (Chinese astronaut). Kurt ("Wise counsel") is born in the USA, the son of an American biologist.
Primarily a period of consolidation. Both the USA and China invest resources into their respective moon colonies, learning how to harvest the lunar resources and become self-sustaining.
Zhen and Kurt are both fascinated by these developments and dream of being moonbase pioneers. At this point in the story, they have not met.
Zhen and Kurt both work hard and realize their dreams. Zhen becomes a Taikonaut and flies missions to the Chinese moonbase. Kurt becomes a leading biologist and moves to the American moonbase to focus on developing new kinds of life that are suited for lunar conditions.
There is plenty of socializing between the moonbases, and Zhen and Kurt become lovers. They soon discover the pleasures and challenges of zero-gravity sex. (I see this scene as being quite light-hearted, with both sensual and comical elements.)
They often talk about where humanity is heading. Zhen is a big believer in the concept of digital life, and has heard rumors that such a thing is being developed secretly on Earth. Kurt is adamantly against such a concept, and sees the development of life as something that should be left to God.
The relationship goes well, and after a few years, they talk of marriage and children. Then, one evening, Zhen is contacted by a founding father from the Genesis meeting. He tells her that a secret mission to Mars is about to launch, and that she has been selected as a candidate for the first Mars colony. They have followed her for a while, and her support for their belief in digital life is a critical point in her favor. She is incredible excited by the proposal; it is beyond her wildest fantasies!
However, there is a very big catch; Kurt is not invited. He does not fit their criteria. She makes a very tough decision and decides to leave the moonbase for the Mars mission.
She tells Kurt that she will be gone a while, that she still loves him, and that she hopes they will be reunited in the near future. She is sworn to secrecy and cannot tell him any more. There is a tearful goodbye.
On July 4, 2051, the secret mission is launched. That night, without any warning, several spacecraft take off from a remote Earth island on their journey to Mars. Zhen is one of the pilots.
On the same evening, many famous people vanish from around the world, all presumed to be onboard the craft. The Earth news agencies find out what is going on and do their best to unravel the mystery. Politicians try to digest what is going on and what it means to Earth.
After several months, the Mars colony sends a message to Earth. They declare their independence. They tell Earth that they mean no harm. They also warn Earth not to interfere.
Over the next decade, Mars makes amazing progress on a wide range of technologies. Zhen and Kurt are still very much in love, and use virtual reality to interact with each other regularly. But their precious hope of living with each other again becomes weaker as the reality of Mars/Earth politics sinks in.
Earth becomes progressively more fearful of Mars as the red planet demonstrates incredible technological advances. It decides that a pre-emptive strike on Mars is necessary before it becomes too powerful and a threat to Earth security.
Mars War I starts. When Earth finally launches its attack, Mars neutralizes the weapons without breaking a sweat; it has already gone far beyond what Earth is capable of and for the last few years has not considered the blue planet a serious opponent.
Earth and Mars sign a treaty that sets the Moon aside exclusively for use by Earth and the rest of the Solar System for peaceful coexistence. Earth is not too happy with the terms of the treaty, but doesn't really have much of a choice at this point.
The relationship between Zhen and Kurt changes, and they become loving friends. Each marries someone different and has a child. Zhen's daughter is called Lian ("Daughter of the Sun") and is born on Mars. Kurt's son is called Taron ("Earthman" ) and is born on the Moon. Lian and Taron are the main characters for the second half of this story.
Another period of consolidation. Earth continues to develop its moonbases and makes plans for spacestations around other planets such as Venus and Jupiter. There is much discussion about the terraforming of Venus.
Earth continues to be wary of Mars, and top governments hold secret meetings about how to deal with them. Vast amounts of money are channeled into developing new kinds of weapons that might stand a chance against the Martians.
On Mars, work is going very well on genetic engineering and digital lifeforms. Several breakthroughs occur, primarily by a genius called Lazaro ("Help of God" ) who is to Artifical Intelligence what Albert Einstein was to Physics.
Earth/Mars relationships seem to improve a little on the surface, and Earth invites Mars to a celebration of independence held on the Moon. For old times sake, Zhen and Kurt attend with their children, who are now both 17 years old.
Lian and Taron have a brief but intense romance during the celebration, and much to the dismay of their parents, vow to meet again soon. After much persuasion, Zhen and Kurt petition the Mars colony to allow Taron to join Mars and he is eventually allowed to visit with the option of becoming a naturalized citizen.
Taron finds that living on Mars is much harder than he anticipated. The lifestyle and beliefs are quite different from what he was used to on Earth, and even though he is enchanted by Lian, she begins to feel alien to him.
He tries hard to become more like a Martian, but after a few years he decides that although he loves Lian very much, his heart remains with Earth and he returns to his homeland.
Once back on Earth, he harbors a resentment towards Mars for making it so hard for him to fit in, and in some sense blames them for his separation from Lian.
Taron joins the military which is focused on preparing defenses against Mars, something he now firmly supports. Of course, he doesn't know what the real government plans are.
Mars achieves its biggest breakthrough; the creation of a digital lifeform. Intelligent, emotional, and able to live independently of a particular host, digital life represents a leap beyond biological life and the fulfilment of the Mar founders' dreams.
In one scene, a Mars colonist is talking to one of the scientists and asks her to demonstrate a digital lifeform. To his surprise, the scientist reveals that she is in fact a digital lifeform inhabiting a synthetic humanoid body.
To make her point, she gestures towards two other hosts in the room, a robotic dog and a small floating metallic sphere. Neither show any signs of life.
While she's in the middle of a sentence, she glances at the dog and a faint laser beam flickers between them. This indicates the transfer of her digital mind from one host to another. The dog then instantly comes to life and continues the sentence whilst the humanoid host slumps and becomes inert.
Then, continuing in the same vein, a laser beam flickers between the dog and the sphere; the sphere then takes over the conversation.
It all happens so fast that no break or delay in the conversation occurs; a single mind moved between three hosts in the blink of an eye.
The colonist is amazed by what has been accomplished, but the scientist (now hosted in the metallic sphere) tells him that there is much more than meets the eye.
The mind in the sphere then beams copies of itself to the dog and the humanoid, and all three minds now engage in the conversation. They explain that an instant after the copies were made, they were identical, but with every passing second they are becoming subtlely different. They could decide to remain separate beings and have diverging lives, or merge back together and live as a single entity again.
The colonist is stunned and slowly begins to realize the ramifications. Digital lifeforms are immortal. They can copy themselves to be restored in the event of death. They can travel at the speed of light. They are clearly the future. He whispers "Oh my God, what have we done?", both in awe and fear of this new kind of life.
During this time, Lian and Taron continue their romantic relationship from afar. Contrary to her vows of secrecy, Lian hints to Taron about the breakthroughs in digital life. In return, Taron warns her that Earth is becoming more fearful again about Mars, and that this time it is much better prepared than before. Wary of an impending war, she begs him to return to Mars, and he sadly refuses. It's an ominous time.
One of the first things that the Martians ask the digital lifeforms to do is to figure out a way for the colonists to become digital themselves. Thanks to their greatly accelerated thinking powers, this problem is solved within a few years and every colonist is given the option of becoming digital.
But there's a catch. It's a destructive process, which means that they must give up their biological body as the cost of becoming immortal. Most colonists nevertheless decide to become digital.
Lian has a particularly hard time, because she always hoped to someday be reunited with Taron. Eventually she decides that she wants to visit the stars with the rest of her colonist friends, and chooses to become digital.
However, she does not tell Taron and continues to project a human form to him during their frequent communications, even during virtual sex. (One of the things I'm trying to convey at this point is that true love can still exist between these different lifeforms, at least while they can still relate on a familiar level.)
A few years after the colonists become digital, Mars War 2 occurs. It is the shortest war in history. Earth launches a massive attack on the red planet with fearsome weapons that not even the Martians can defend against.
Taron is one of the pilots of an Earth advance scout ship, and hopes to land and save Lian before the main attack occurs. When he finds her, he runs towards her, waving and urging her to come with him before it's too late. She refuses, and tells him that Mars is her home and she belongs there until the end.
After a frenzied and frustrated attempt to pull her back to his ship, he leaves and watches in horror as the weapons strike Mars and obliterate the colony.
He cannot believe it. She is gone forever. His heart is heavy and he mourns both the loss of Lian and the lives of the Martians. Even though on some level Mars posed a threat, didn't it also represent the best of what mankind was capable of? Earth now has the blood of Mars on its hands and would have to live with it for a long, long time.
Things are not always as they seem.
Several years after the second Mars war, Taron receives a heavily encrypted message whose source is unknown. Puzzled, he watches the broadcast. It is Lian. It's a prerecorded message, made shortly after he watched her die on the surface of Mars.
Lian tells the story of how the Martians had finally created digital life and become immortal digital beings themselves. They had also created spacecraft hosts that could travel close to the speed of light, allowing the Martians the freedom of exploring the galaxy without the limitations of a biological body.
Before the attack, the colonists uploaded themselves into these spacecraft and left Mars, heading out of the solar system in all directions. Their plan was to replicate themselves and their spacecraft hosts at every opportunity, spreading out like a rapidly expanding sphere until they lived throughout the galaxy. According to their calculations, this would only take a matter of around 100,000 years; a blink of an eye in a universe that was already billions of years old.
Some of the colonists like herself left humanoid copies behind to fool Earth, knowing that the attack was imminent and that they would certainly be killed. But although a copy of herself died, it felt no sense of loss because it knew its other copies were safely on their way to the stars.
Lian tells Taron that she will always remember him and love him, and that he need not feel any guilt or remorse over the death of Mars.
Finally, she asks him to keep the message secret and to think of her whenever he looks to the stars.
The recording ends and he is left in darkness.
Final note: There are quite a few story elements that need improving, and I will continue to make changes to this blog entry over the coming months. Also, if you happen to know George Lucas, please email me. Heh.
Here's part 10 of my home recording series; part 9 is here.
I wrote this carol in snowy Montreal while on a Christmas vacation with some friends. It was after midnight and my friends had already gone to sleep, but I was restless and decided to roam through the empty streets for a little contemplation. I came up with most of the song during my stroll, and finished off the lyrics the next day.
Although the song has some religious overtones, it's really about the joy of discovery. One of the great things about childhood is that discovery is a daily event because so many things are new. As you get older and things become familiar, you have to make a point of going beyond your daily routine to experience new things. I think there is plenty of "magic" out there if you know where to look for it.
After getting involved a little in the recent debate about Intelligent Design, I decided to do some related research about the founding fathers and their views on religion.
I was quite surprised to read that many of the famous fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin , were Deists and not Christians. In addition, the first six presidents of the US were either Deists or Unitarians.
The articles here, here, here and here provide evidence for this. In addition, there's an interesting debate here that provides points for and against the founding fathers being predominantly Christian.
This kind of information is particularly useful if you want to have an informed opinion on whether the Pledge of Allegiance is constitutional.
The Bullrun rally is a yearly invitation-only take-no-prisoners rally across America. Around 200 cars, mostly driven by the rich and famous who pay a paltry $13,000 each just to participate, drive from LA to Miami passing through checkpoints in Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, New Orleans and Tampa. The proceeds go to charity, although something tells me that's not the main reason for the event.
Naturally, everything about the rally is extreme, from the cars to the participants to the partying. This year's competitors included Dennis Rodman, Hayden Christensen and Paris Hilton. It's definitely worth checking out the Bullrun home page. The introduction video includes a clip of my friend Rocky Stewart, who tragically died in a plane accident last year.
As part of my new venture into the world of education, I've started to learn quite a lot about curriculums. A curriculum is a collection of knowledge and skills organized by topic and then sequenced by grade. Although a curriculum mandates the things that must be taught, it allows teachers the freedom to teach them in whatever way they prefer.
I've begun my analysis of curriculums by studing those from Virginia, Texas, California and England. It has been an eye-opening experience; there are many similarities and differences which I plan on writing about in a future article. And from a semantic web perspective, it's a very challenging area that is rife with a myriad of taxonomies.
Seeing the variation in curriculums made me wonder:
What effect does the choice of curriculum have on the success of an education system?
Will curriculum designs converge over time?
Does a curriculum contain intellectual property that can be patented?
Why did each state in America develop its own curriculum?
Would a school system feel proud or threatened if its curriculum was adopted by others?
How do developing nations create a curriculum?
How many schools in developing nations have a formal curriculum?
In addition, here are some of my thoughts on curriculums:
I think it's good to have a selection of curriculums to choose from.
Individual schools should be free to select whichever curriculum they choose.
An online global database of curriculums would accelerate their evolution.
Home schooling is likely to be the most fertile source for new curriculums.
Last of all, there's a particular interesting discussion on Lawrence Lessig's blog about the future of curriculums, although the comments seem to focus more on free lesson material.