Vatican secrets: The original Macroscope

2 09 2009

One of my favourite sci-fi novels is Macroscope by Piers Anthony.

Note: Although Anthony is famous for his light-hearted Xanth series. This is a novel for adults, and deals with a lot of serious and heavy historical and social issues, and yes, that means violence and sex.

The macroscope is a powerful transmission receiving satelite that can detect pretty much every wave emitted in the universe. Theoretically with such a device one could observe every event in history anywhere in the universe.

With the device scientists are able to observe the demise of several distant historical alien species (one through personal greed, one through violence, and another reckless abuse of their environmental resources). Scientists also detect another special signal that only the people with high IQ (i.e. most of the scientists) can discern. Unfortunately, everyone who watches this signal turns into a catatonic vegetable. The story follows the one alleged genius who may be able to discover the secret behind this transmission.

The idea of a Macroscope is quite interesting, and is almost what our existing satelites and telescopes do already (receive various forms of radiation as it reaches Earth). So why can’t we observe what happened 40,000 years ago on Earth in real-time?

Apparently, in the 60’s, a Venetian monk, Father Pelligrino Ernetti claimed to have a device that could do just that. The device was called the “chronovisor” and apparently resembled a television.

Instead of receiving broadcasts from local transmission stations, however, the chronovisor could tune into the past to allow the viewer to see and hear events that had occurred years or even centuries earlier. Father Ernetti told [Father] Brune that the machine worked by detecting all the sights and sounds that humanity had made that still floated through space.

That’s right: Catholic scientists invented a virtual time machine. And apparently they saw the crucifixion of Christ, Napoleon’s conquests across Europe, and the penning of Thyestes by the Roman poet Quintus Ennius.


Now here comes the unbelievable part. You can not see the device anymore because the priests destroyed it. It was too dangerous, as it might invade people’s privacy and create a dictatorship. Really? Catholic priests don’t want blind obedience and total information awareness?

Something about that just doesn’t add up.


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Diablo III set to WoW noobs

15 09 2008

Will it take away from my l33tz0r status to say I’m not exactly too pumped about Diablo III.

It has little to do with complaints about lightness issues. I swear toning up the colour is probably the best thing you could to do Diablo. Darkness is good for setting the mood in Survival Horror First Person Shooters (like AvP2 or Doom) – but in a point and click adventure RPG it’s plain annoying not being able to see things.

I played Diablo, I played Diablo II, and it is highly likley I will play Diablo III – but I think I will be least satisfied with this offering from Blizzard. The allure of earlier Diablo’s was an interesting storyline (sort of) but I think WoW has shown Blizzard’s inability to show creativity beyond a 4 year old*.

The gameplay videos show the little innovation beyond the random dungeon environment (like supercool!!) has been introducing Warcraft Mobs (sigh), Warcraft skills (sigh) and Warcraft icons (sigh). Why not label the game Warcraft dungeons?

My other gripe is that it all looks way to easy, even for a hack and slash. The Barbarian smashes through without losing any health, the Witchdoctor not too far behind. With mobs dropping helath and mana bonuses everytime they die (which they do a lot) – will the game prove any sort of challenge? Or is it set on baby-easy for the demo video? Or more likely more gaming designed so that every Chuck-Norris-kissing Barrens spambot can join in the fun?

*i.e. creative, crazy, even fascinating, but hardly intelligent or sophisticated – and they were doing so well with WCIII.

Celebrate Magpie Season

14 09 2008

Hattip: grrlscientist

If it’s called magpie season, why can’t we shoot them?

Maybe because they are intelligent*. How do we know this, because they have displayed an intelligent human-like trait – VANITY.

Okay the research (Prior, Schwartz & Güntürkün)  is using the term “self-recognition”.

A common test that is used on human-like primates is to put a brightly coloured dot on the animal and see if it notices the dot on itself in the mirror. The key to self awareness is then that the animal will look for where the dot is on itself, and investigate it specifically, knowing that it shouldn’t be there normally.

Outside of primates, the dot-test has been used to demonstrate self-awareness on dolphins and elephants. Monkeys, while still being intelligent in a number of respects (able to deal with currency, maths and picture based communications), often fail the dot self awareness test. Maybe they don’t care.

This German-based research is one of the first demonstrations of mirror based self-recognition and interest in a non-mammalian animal. The researchers are hoping that it may help dispel some myths about the special-ness of humans and mammals in general.

Oh, yes, science just went there. You are not special anymore.

*It’s Spring here in the Southern hemisphere – that means magpies are breeding – and they will swoop on you if you dare to cross a park a where they are nesting. Hard hats (and icecream tub helmets) for all the kiddies.

Image credit: From the research paper uploaded to flickr by hedwig the owl/grrlscientist