February 20, 2010

Contradictory vs preservative time travel paradoxes

Time travel paradoxes are a very exciting phenomenon. Regardless of whether time traveling is possible or not, one can imagine time traveling and the paradoxes that occur inevitably. In order to have a base for future posts, I want to explain two kinds of time travel paradoxes I am distinguishing. Both of them can only appear in backwards time travels, i.e. when traveling back in time. Furthermore, the travel is ought to be a travel into the past of the own time line, i.e. it is not a travel to an alternative universe.

Self-contradictory time travel paradoxes

A self-contradictory time travel paradox is an event that prevents itself. An example is a time traveler who travels back in time and prevents the construction of his time machine. Without the time machine he cannot travel back and prevent the construction of his time machine. Sounds contradictory? Yes it is, hence the name. A more classic example would be killing ones own ancestor in the past.

Such paradoxes are paradox because the effect of a cause is preventing that very same cause. Obviously, such paradoxes cannot occur in nature, but this does not prevent me from writing about them.

In literature, self-contradictory time travel paradoxes are sometimes resolved by defining time travels to be travels to an alternative universe. Actions in that alternative universe do not have an effect to the original universe of the time traveler. In the 2002 movie adaption of H.G.Wells' novel The Time Machine the protagonist, a time traveler, is unable to prevent the murder of his fiancé because that would lead to a self-contradictory paradox. In that movie, time travels are indeed travels in the own universe, but one cannot change the past in a way that it would prevent itself.

Self-preservative time travel paradoxes

Self-preservative time travel paradoxes are harder to explain. Unlike the other kind, this paradox is not self-contradicting. So why is it a paradox then? Because it forms a circular dependency in its cause-and-effect chain. This is contradicting to our observation that every event in the world has a cause that happened before the event. An example is a time traveler who travels back in time to enable the construction of his time machine, e.g. by giving the construction plans to himself. A classic chicken-and-egg problem.

There is also an analogy to the ancestor example above, but it is to perverse to explain here. A more moderated version of that analogy is used in the movie Terminator I. In that movie John Connor sends his own father back in time to meet John's mother and conceive John.

The television series Lost was full of self-preserving time travel paradoxes until the end of season 5. In the series, this was refered to as "what happened, happened". [Spoiler alert: do not read further if you are interested in Lost and have not yet seen the first episode of season 6]. Beginning with the last episode of season 5, this seems to have changed. A self-contradictory paradox occured and an alternative time line spawned. This seems to be contradicting with the statement "what happened, happened" postulated until then. In a future post I will explain why this does not have to be contradictory in Lost.

February 9, 2010

Next generation operating systems

There is currently a massive shift in operating system paradigm. One that Microsoft seems to have missed. I am not speaking about general purpose operating systems. I am speaking about operating systems that are designed for end users: users that want to use their computing device for surfing, messaging or consuming media. These users constitute the majority of computer users today.

The operating system designed for these users will be a very simple one. It will exclude features that many think of being the main components of an operating system today. The next generation operation system will
  • not have a complex window manager
  • not expose a file system to the end user
  • not expose complex OS settings and configuration
  • store user data in the cloud, instead of in a local data store
  • run applications on the cloud or as web applications, instead of on the local CPU
This may sound like SciFi to many at first. But if you look close, you will see that major players are already competing in being the first to deliver this kind of operating system to the end user. Apple builds the iPad which has a very simplified operating system. Google builds the Chrome OS, which is supposed to be a cloud OS.

Rumor says that internal discussions at Microsoft regarding developing such operating systems got blocked because such operating systems do not fit well with MS Office. I would predict that it will not take long until they change their minds.

Current operating systems will not disappear completely, of course. They will still have their purposes as servers, workstations or as gaming platforms (the later will not last long, I would say). It may also be that end users will still own an ordinary computer with ordinary operating systems for some time. But for every such computer the users will own at least 1 or 2 devices which will be running the new next generation operating systems.

Progress Updates:

February 4, 2010

Computing industry rock stars - celebrities of the future?

I recently noticed that I am adoring rock stars of the computing industry just like other people are adoring pop stars in the music industry.

I am frequently searching Google for news about them, try to read every publication of them, and can barely await the next post in their blog (if they have one). If I would meat meet one of them in real live, I would fall to their feet and beg for an autograph. Interestingly, I cannot say the same about one single living music pop star (Michael Jackson does not count). There could be one or two movie stars falling into that category, though.

Is my worship for computing industry rock stars a crazy rarity, or are they really gaining in general popularity? Will computing industry rock stars be as popular as celebrities of the movie or music industry in the future?