Simon’s Backup Weblog

Flash Fiction: Getting in is easy, getting out is the hard bit.

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 24, 2007

A feral Matrioshka Brain is a dangerous place. The wild evolution of self-replicating machines makes it a playground for Darwin – and deadly for anyone that tries to venture in. But if you’re scavenging the ruins of dead civilisations, there’s really no other place to go.

The first ships that tried to make it into the whirling zombie hell of a Matrioshka died quickly. All those fresh resources in a solar system made of nothing but cannibalised computronium drew the autonomous hunter-seekers in, moths to a metal and plastic flame. The next few ships were shielded, armed and armoured. That only meant they lasted a few hours longer. We heard their screams as the machines ate their way through the hull plates.

They put the name of the team that worked out how to get in to and out of a dead transcendent up in lights. They also made them richer than Buffett and Gates put together, as we all ended up working for them. They built the gizmo that got us in, and the gizmo that got us out. All we got was a percentage of anything useful we brought back.

A couple of AU out from one of the more recently zombied Matrioshkas, our small convoy was drifting, waiting. Most of a scavenger’s life was waiting: waiting punctuated with a few hours of more than extreme danger. Getting in to the Matrioshka was easy. The hard bit was getting out again.

We were going in hot and fast, following a relativistic comet. Its megatonnes of ice, pushed to nearly .9c, would punch a hole right through the Matrioshka, burning a tunnel into the heart of the system, killing the brain’s components in a hail of hot particles. Our ships would come in right behind it, hiding in the storm. Peeling off to scavenge the rubble of its passing, we’d grab what we could, wait for the trail of the next comet, and then boost out behind it before the wild machines returned.

The secret to getting in was this: If you leave FTL travel just that little bit wrong enough, you don’t slow down that much. All we needed to do was stick one big old chunk of transcendent technology onto a cometary body out in the interstellar void, fire it up, and let physics (and a lot of programming) do the rest.

Voices crackled through the ship’s net. “Fire in the hole.”

“Engines on line.”

“Targets acquired.”

Clocks scrolled down the displays, words flashed on screens, numbers blurred into insignificance. The moment was upon us.

The comet flashed past, screaming X-rays as it burned its way through the Matrioshka’s attenuated solar wind. The engines kicked in and we fell, following the fire, into the angry maw of entropy.


Panoramic Yosemite Reflections

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 21, 2007

Yosemite Reflections Panorama

I recommend clicking to see the larger versions of this – it’s a 6 image stitch of the view over Lake Tenaya in the Yosemite National Park, on a beautiful early autumn evening…

Yosemite, California
September 2007

I’m quite impressed with the stitching tool in Windows Live Photo Gallery – it makes producing this type of image a matter of a few clicks, and as it uses a graph cut algorithm, produces a very smoothly blended panorama with no need for intervention…

Ansel’s Jet

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 21, 2007

Ansel's Jet

Black and white shot of a jet in a clear blue sky over Yosemite.

It just seemed the right thing to do…

Yosemite, California
September 2007


Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 21, 2007

I’m trying out the beta of the latest version of the Flickr Uploadr, and I’m already tempted to say: “Great job, chaps”. Sure, it’s beta code, and there are still known bugs, but it seems to fix most of my issues with the Uploadr.

This is a complete rewrite of the old Uploadr, using a completely different set of technologies. The biggest visible change is a cross-platform UI built using Mozilla’s Xulrunner. The result is an application that looks very similar to the site’s recently updated web-based uploading tool, but with many more features.

My favourite feature so far has to be batch tagging, the ability to select a group of images, and quickly apply the same tags, descriptions, and titles (as well as other basic image settings). That’s the big win for me – it makes uploading a day’s images a lot easier, and reduces the time taken tagging. Group management has been improved too, and if an upload fails, tags and targeted groups are saved for the next attempt.

The result is a big improvement in work flow. I can get a batch of images tagged and uploaded in a few minutes, when using a mix of the old Uploadr and the web UI took at least three times as long…



Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 21, 2007

ican haz appel nao?

Squirrel and apple core at Glacier Point

Yosemite, California
September 2007


Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 15, 2007
sbisson sbisson Grrr. Courier didn’t ring doorbell, just left card.
Thu, Nov 15 13:41:08 from OutTwit
Codepope Codepope @sbisson It’s only a little font, the type that can’t reach the doorbell… I blame the font family.
Thu, Nov 15 14:52:22 from twitterrific

I’m a writer and I’m in favour of the WGA strike…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 15, 2007

…and this is why (in the words of one of the Daily Show writers):

Sure, my words aren’t on screen, but I like being paid for them. I figure these guys deserve to be paid for theirs too.

It’s interesting to note that an apparently worthless medium (according to the media companies) is rapidly becoming the key tool in getting the WGA message across to the world.

Earthrise and Earthset

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 15, 2007

Japan’s KAGUYA (which translates as Selene) lunar orbiter is carrying one of the first space-rated HDTV cameras. It’s still in shakedown, but has started sending back some spectacular imagery. JAXA, the Japanese space agency, has turned some of the imagery into two rather wonderful movies – one of Earthrise, and one of Earthset.

The two Flash movies are quite slow to load, so I grabbed a couple of screen caps of Earthset.


Light Truck

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 14, 2007

Light Truck

Processed image of a projector in a truck that was displaying images on the side of the Shell Centre in the South Bank.

South Bank, London
November 2007

At Future of Mobile

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on November 14, 2007

Here’s a new rule for conference presenters: lots of Powerpoint (or Keynote) text doesn’t work at all on an IMAX screen. The huge screen batters the audience with words, and the message is lost in the medium.

Despite being battered by giant slides, I’m finding this one day event both fascinating and intriguing. In some cases people seem to be attempting to solve problems I thought we’d dealt with back in the early days of the mobile internet – especially around user responses to portal designs. It seems as though the operators are still pushing the same old myths about their users…

Still, there’s a lot of useful work going on. I’m particularly impressed by the .mobi and W3C work on developing automated testing solutions for mobile web applications.

I’m also pleased that context has been a key concept in all the presentations. Context, on mobile at least, not content is king. I suspect I need to push the work we did back in 2000-1 in Hong Kong and Portugal at people again – there’s a lot there that’s still relevant today.

Future of Mobile is also a good place to try out the new LJ mobile client, with its integrated photo posting.
At Future of Mobile

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