In 1961, Frank Drake helped organise the first Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) conference. In preparation for his speech, he came up with the Drake Equation, which effectively multiplies a whole lot of unknown probabilities together to come up with a figure which may or may not tell us how many real live aliens there might be out there trying to communicate with us.
Drake’s Equation is little more than an interesting thought experiment, since every single variable is a SWAG. Still, people use it to come up with a figure that motivates them to aid the search. Nothing wrong with that.
But even if Drake’s Equation convinces you that there are many many civilisations out there, there’s reason to believe that the Earth is unique, or at least very rare, in one way. From where we stand, the sun and the moon both occupy about 30 arc seconds, or to put it differently, the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and also 400 times further away.
Where the unique becomes sublime is when we have a total eclipse of the sun. If the moon were bigger, we wouldn’t see a halo. If the moon were smaller, it wouldn’t be a total eclipse.
Which is why Iain Banks, in his novel Transition, suggests that instead of watching the great American eclipse of 2017, you should rather be looking around. Many of the spectators might have hitch hiked a number of lightyears to observe the phenomenon.
September marks the start of spring in South Africa. While we sometimes have rain, this year September 1st was an absolutely gorgeous day.
Also, in the other hemisphere, students go to school after summer holidays. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, new students getting access to the university computer networks caused all kinds of chaos on usenet (what we had instead of the world wide web back then) until they acquired some clue.
On September 1st 2014, the lusers got to Tam.
The ‘net is just a little bit poorer today.
One of the disks that came with my Apple ][ clone contained a little game called Nightmare #6. At the time it completely stumped me, there seemed to be no way to beat the game. I’d worked out that a move consisted of two letters, no more, no less, and that it was possible to lose points quite quickly, and also possible to not lose points, but I never worked out how to actually gain points.
For some reason I thought of this game again the other day, tried to find it. This was not easy, but plenty google later I found it in the Apple Software Bank Volume 1.
Of course my BASIC is better than it was in 1980. I learned that:
So, NZ (14 + 26 = 40) is a valid move. So is OY, PX, QW, RV and SU. After playing these, you can’t re-use N, O, P, Q, R or S, but U, V, W, X, Y and Z are all set to 40, so UV, WX and YZ are legal moves for 80 points each, and leaves V, X and Z set to 80. VZ and XZ give you 160 points each, finishing the game with 1880 points out of a (claimed) possible 2080 points.
So I thought about it some more. Realised that while NZ is a good place to start, XZ (24 + 26 = 50) is better. Of course this means that PX is no longer a legal move, you can’t play the first letter again. OY, QW, RV and SU are still good for 40 points each, and YZ, WZ, VZ and UZ give 90, 130, 170 and 210 points (because the point value of Z increases every time). But this is only nine turns, and we need eleven. Fortunately we still have J (= 10) and T (= 20) to play TZ and JZ, for a total score of 2280 points.
I still don’t know how the author got to the “possible 2080″ points.
Oh yes, and this is why I’m with Jason Scott — we’re not huge Wikipedia fans because they delete perfectly good information. Someone took the trouble to write something about Nightmare #6, and noted that it is possible to get more than 2080 points, but the editors decided that “WP is not a videogame guide“.
In other words, the machine shipped with more power than you paid for, with some kind of a silicon handbrake to cripple the hardware until such time as you could afford to pay for an upgrade.
But that’s long ago and
we do things differently now some people don’t learn from history.
Because apparently Tektronix sells equipment with built-in capabilities that costs money to enable, except if you can program an EEPROM. And not with some encrypted password or string, no, apparently plain text available straight off of Tektronix’ website will do the trick.
Notes to Tektronix:
1. Streisand Effect. I wouldn’t have written this post if you had not got all upset.
3. Once the cat is out of the bag, it becomes trivial to replicate. Even if you DMCA the Wayback Machine, and me, and everyone else… you still lose. See Note 1.
So, learn from this and design better security next time.
I remember when this album hit the shops. We loved it. I drove from Cape Town to Johannesburg, via St. Francis Bay, with one tape in the car. It was amazing.
If you wear camo and sit very quietly in the shade of a bush you can get to see interesting things.
See it? Lemme zoom in a bit for you.
I sat watching this fellow as he was making a beeline pretty much straight for me.
This is a split second after he saw me (the camo in the foreground is me). Changed his mind pretty quickly and made for the hills.
And the evening I had to eat a gemmerkoekie* as punishment for not shooting the blighter. Because there are two problem animals that get shot on sight on farms, jackal** and caracal***.
Why didn’t I shoot? The gemsbok were just behind that ridge ahead of me, and I was seriously considering changing my priority from kudu to gemsbok. That ended up not happening and I walked-and-surprised**** a nice young kudu bull the next day. So all turned out well.
** Black-backed jackal, known as “rooijakkals” or red jackal in Afrikaans. The little bat-eared foxes and silver foxes are also “jakkals” in Afrikaans but you don’t shoot those.
*** I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shoot a caracal. And of course the african wild cat is rightly so a no-shoot.
**** You don’t walk-and-stalk a kudu. You walk-and-surprise it. It will see you before you see it, if you’re moving, and it won’t stay around for too long. And once they’re gone, they are gone. Over the mountain, down the other side, over the next mountain, and still going strong, while you’re still trying to find your second wind.
… I still think it’s a bloody good movie.
Here’s an interview for you.
The final act of ‘Top Secret!’ spoofs ‘The Blue Lagoon,’ a 1980 film starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins — a film that was the ninth highest grossing film of 1980, but hasn’t retained a strong presence in popular culture today. Despite the disparity of their original box office totals, today ‘Top Secret!’ is a more popular film than “The Blue Lagoon.’