austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

A firefly flew in his room and flew right out again

Discovery Channel, or an equivalent channel --- one of those that's always running not-quite-fresh documentaries about Einstein discovering relativity by being near clocks --- had an hourlong documentary about the secret crime of Jan Hendrik Schön, that guy who was with Bell Labs making astonishing breakthroughs in molecular computing faster than could possibly be done. He achieved this by the straightforward time-saving convenience of making up his results. So the course of this show was pretty well established by the premise: they'd talk up what the accomplishments could accomplish, show off the various very many papers, and then comes the discovery of one graph being used repeatedly to show completely different things, then the revelation that in hindsight his 42,208 papers were supported by the clever reuse and relabelling of six graphs, all of them actually speed and acceleration plots from Roller Coaster Tycoon rides, in different orders so they look like new data.

Since this was supposed to create molecular-type computers the show opened with the potential dread menace of nanobots and grey goo and so on, demonstrated with cheesy computer-animation of a transparent digital tornado attacking a desert and then time-lapse photographs of a dead pigeon. I expected that. What about the approach surprised me was saying that the guy was trying to overcome the Inevitable Stalling Of Moore's Law, since of course if the number of transistors on a chip doesn't keep doubling every (convenient number of months) the economy will inevitably crash. And now with one avenue of unworking nanobots closed off we're safe from grey goo but now we're threatened with poverty when silicon chips stop panning out. I haven't heard the goo-or-poverty twist before and look forward to it decorating bad science fiction premises to come.

A thread on one Star Trek forum I read asked, ``Am I the only one who likes the end scene of Nemesis?''. Remarkably, the thread was carried out without anyone quipping that they loved it and only wish it had come much earlier.

Trivia: On 30 September 1827, Sam Patch broke past constables and leapt from a bridge under construction over the Passaic Falls in Paterson, New Jersey, and survived. The fame from this stunt inspired him to a career in leaping from any height to any body of water. Source: Jerseyana: The Underside Of New Jersey History, Marc Mappen.

Currently Reading: Whose What? Aaron's Beard to Zorn's Lemma, Dorothy Rose Blumberg.


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