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I must admit that it was difficult to wrap my layman head around the idea of 'time travel'. My reading (and watching, thanks to an online friend of mine who will know who he is should he read this) involved many presentations involving metre sticks, clocks, pythagorean triangulation and space travel - or in other words, 'time dilation'. I get the concept, but there's something about the theory's point of view, if not its motivation, that bothers me.
The base of Einstein's concept is: light always travels at the same speed relative to the observer. He explained his theory, in a thought experiment sometimes called "Einstein's mirror", by imagining himself in a train travelling at a speed of light while looking at a mirror: would he see a reflection? His conclusion was 'yes'.
The most common presentation explaining time dilation I saw was one involving two parallel mirrors and the behaviour of light between them if one was moving. True, the beam of light between the originating mirror at its beginning state, the 'immobile' mirror and the originating mirror at its end state is 'longer' than a line between two immobile mirrors, but scientists have seemed to conclude that, since there is no speed faster than light, it must be time that is changing. Something bothers me about this - to no end.
It was the 'speed relative to the viewer' part that intrigued me the most, and I went to bed with my thoughts full of spaceships, trains and mirrors. If I were (in bed) watching Einstein speeding away from me on a light-speed travelling train with a mirror in front of his face, with himself still able to see his own reflection because light was being reflected relative to his own position and speed, what would be the speed of his reflection according to me? My repeated conclusion was: his reflection, at least in the light being sent towards his mirror, would have to be travelling twice the speed of light. But nothing can travel faster than the speed of light (according to 'our' point of origin), right? If relativity really does hold true, wrong.
If I reduce the Einstein mirror example to two stars hurtling away from each other at light speed (which one is 'still' is irrelevant), the photons emitted from opposing sides of the stars at any given point of time would be travelling three times the speed of light relative to each other. Yet modern physics insists on adding time into the equation, and tells us that it is time that is changing, not the light speed. Either I am missing something, or there is so much wrong with this.
The obstacle we are facing is our own concept of 'light speed' and use of 'light year' in our calculations. If light is indeed an independent electromagnetic wave that always travels at the same speed from its point of origin, and if that 'point of origin' can be travelling at any speed at all, what is there to say that travel of light speed 'is not possible'? The problem here is that although we have no measure above the speed of light with which to compare things, that doesn't mean that anything beyond the limit of our measure can't exist. From our present point of observation, in a universe that originated most probably at the same point in time, we just can't see it, or haven't seen it yet.
To take this thought to its full extent, imagine a space ship accelerating away from earth (to some unknown destination). From a point of rest near earth, imagine that it maintains a continued state of acceleration (let's leave time out of the equation for now) and that it achieves the speed of light. Now, let's imagine the environment in and around that spacecraft at that precise point in time.
First off, what is that 'speed of light' velocity the spaceship is at? That 'speed' is measured relative to its, or our own, point of rest. If relativity holds true, and there is no limiting 'ether', any physical phenomena created by that spaceship at that speed would have that speed and position as its point of origin; for the calculation of any physical occurrences on that spacecraft, our position or point of reference doesn't matter to any equation of events onboard. A nuclear reaction on that spaceship would occur exactly in the same way as it would on earth (if the spaceship somehow had a 'false gravity' equalling earths), and any outward-going force, such as thrust (into a vacuum), should react in the same way at its speed as it would in ours. All anyone onboard would feel is the force of the ship's acceleration - in fact, without any point of reference to see outside of the ship's porthole, they would have no idea at all about the speed at which they were travelling; should the ship shut down its engines, with no drag to slow it down, it would maintain its 'velocity' (in relation to 'us'), yet it would seem to those onboard that the ship was at a total standstill. If the core idea behind relativity holds true, it can't be any other way.
Our problem today is that we are using the speed of light as a barrier in addition to its use as a unit of measure. Just because we have not yet been able to accelerate any object near/past the speed of light doesn't mean it's not possible; once we do make it there, any electromagnetic wave phenomena we create at that velocity will occur, if we still insist on using ourselves as a point of reference, at twice the speed of light in the direction away from us.
The reason we remain stuck in this reasoning is probably a) the universe itself has a single point of origin (the Big Bang), and everything we see is 'relative' to that moment; b) all the universe's mass, and what little of it we have been able to move ourselves, moves at a speed only a fraction that of the speed of light. Still, according to relativity, the light shining forward from a projected "flashlight bullet" should travel at a velocity to its own (light speed) plus the bullet's velocity at the time it was emitted. Even a bullet's speed is minuscule compared to that of light: I wonder if today we have the tools to test this sort of theory.
So, to sum up: just because we ourselves are unable to see or measure any velocity above or relatively close to the speed of light (velocities created outside our, or the big bang's, point of reference), doesn't mean that nothing beyond hasn't, won't, or can't, occur. I don't yet understand the motivation behind the mathematical acrobatics of 'time dilation' just to preserve a threshold at/below the speed of light; were we to maintain time as a constant in both sides of its equation, or remove it entirely, the result would be a speed faster than the speed of light - or the speed of light plus the 'terminal speed' of the mirror capturing the returning light ray, and I don't see anything wrong with this.
'Bending time' is much like trying to measure a rod with a shorter string by bending the rod; if the string is our largest known velocity (the speed of light) and the rod the real velocity, than that rod has a velocity is greater than any we know, or has a velocity greater than any we can measurably create today, and I don't see any reason why we can't just accept this.
If one were to look at slavery and employment from an economic point of view, comparisons can easily be made: cost per worker to the employer versus profits made. In the days of slavery, the cost per worker was the sole charge of the employer -- costs such as lodging, food, clothing and healthcare (the latter often optional), and today an employer pays wages and moves those responsibilities to the worker, but both conditions remain a "cost per worker" to the employer. Yes, living conditions have improved since then, but take the struggling "working poor", some working two, sometimes three part-time jobs to get by, and not even making it -- many indebted families are actually making less money than their living needs require. Now if one was to throw into the equation the profits the employers of cases such as these are making, one could compare the difference -- and in many cases, at least in my consideration, the plight of many of today's minimum-wage families, work-wise and economy-wise, is even worse than days of slavery. It's only the "moral" context of one human being owning another that has changed: the chain is still there, only in a different form.
I don't understand how, in a political atmosphere we call "democracy", a network of politician-influencing lobbyists can even exist. What use are voters if the decisions of the politicians they elect are influenced not by themselves, but by the money of a few? One could argue that the voters could be 'educated' about the 'good' in their representative's lobby-influenced decisions to get later votes, but this is working in the opposite direction of both reason and democracy (explaining an interest-led decision with a selection of supportive facts, instead of the reason-based methodology of examining all facts available and coming to a logical conclusion only afterwards). Lobby-influenced decisions are rarely in the interest or the will of the people, otherwise there would be no need for any lobbyists at all.
The fact that the subservient public continues to support this system irks me to no end; the reason this climate continues to exist is because of the deficiencies of our education and media. People these days are simply not 'trained' to think for themselves, many do not even want to: not only does the politico-corporate alliance take full advantage of this situation, it is doing all it can to ensure that things stay that way.
Higher wisdom does not lie within the uninformed voting masses, but that doesn't mean that the masses shouldn't be informed. Wisdom is there all the same in raw form: facts about the living conditions of all should guide any decision about what would be best for all. To generate a public both informed and involved, all one has to do is to make the facts and statistics used for political decision-making transparently available to the public themselves.
In an era where many even try to apply "new meaning" to the term "is", today's use of the word "socialism" isn't at all what it was in the year that cartoon came out. Socialism was almost a synonym to communism in those years; the 'socialism' term's use even predated 'communism' (look at 'communist' country names for a why of this).
Today's 'socialism' is a buzzword more than anything these days: most politicians who use it eradicate, or glean over, its original definition in relaying it to an audience who doesn't even know what socialism is. It's nothing short of a scare tactic targeting the ignorant.
The 'government controlling things' is all about context: A thoughtless right-winger tends to think of the government as an entity over which he has no control (a fearful attitude almost a faith - and many of this strain elect representatives for their ability to destroy government); a democrat has more of a tendency to see himself as part of the electoral process (the government exists only after the people). So for the fearful former, something government run is out of their control; for the latter, the same is something run by the people and their wishes.
In a perfect world, there should be no need for a government-run system, but today's world is far from perfect: our economic system is rife with both greed and misinformation (or lack of education). There are many (namely those 'special interests' making the most money from the present situation) who would like things to remain exactly as they are. Then there are those who are too uneducated to understand that a better world can exist.
Personally, I'm still indecisive over what role a government should have: Its first and foremost role, and upon this I remain solidly convinced, should be the maintenance and enforcement of law - but how far beyond that should it go? In today's world there exist no laws against misinformation or excess - partly because we the people don't even have a solid definition for the same. If we could determine all that that is detrimental to our economy (in addition to the already-existing laws about our personal selves), the world would be a much better place, but we have yet to do so. The ventures the most prone to abuse and excess are those catering to - or depending on - the largest number of people, as it is logical that this is where the largest profit-seekers go; this explains why the majority of today's riches are detained by so few. We should study our system, determine the excesses that cause its ills, and remedy them through new laws.
I tend to place health care, autoroutes, sanitation, utilities and communications into the same group; all of these should be consistently available to me no matter where I go (or to who I talk to) in my country, and, personally, I am willing to pay for that privilege - that freedom. In this regard, I imagine public services - a name grouping the above - as a non-profit business run by the people, only managed by government - remember that if you don't like how things are run, you can always fire the manager - with your vote. We don't have the same privilege over the private sector (and I'm not suggesting that we ever should), nor do we have a say, in the present system, of which private contractor a politician chooses, or at what price (profit). Something needs to change there, too - something in the order of 'if it's in the interest of all, all should pay'. I don't care where you shop, but I do care about where I am able to go (in the same comfort) and who I can talk to. I'm sure there are many who would define this as socialism, but it is only a very limited small part of its function, and not at all an entire-economy-government controlled system that is 'real' socialism.
My foremost misgiving with Microsoft: it is not a software development company: it is a marketing company before anything else. From its 1981 "creation" of PC-DOS for IBM, in reality an already-existing OS bought from Seattle Computer Products, Microsoft adopted the marketing method to which it owes its fortune: getting their software pre-installed on many computers as possible. They did the same sort of deal with IBM-Clone manufacturers with their re-branded MS-DOS software.
Pre-installing OS' on computers has two advantages: it a) assured massive profits for Microsoft even before computers hit the shelves, as the OS shipped with the computer at no visible extra charge to the buyer; b) most importantly, assures Microsoft a captive audience that will become dependant on its product: first-time computer users will "learn" whatever they see in front of them the first time they turn the computer on.
As Microsoft managed to ensure itself a large part of the PC market from the get-go, cross-platform compatibility problems resulted in a network of users that would have to rely on Microsoft's product to communicate 'seamlessly' with each other. Their large market share created another level of dependency on their product: many software developers made the economically-sound decision to create products only for the Microsoft platform. The number of developers making this decision only increased with Microsoft's market share.
Microsoft's marketing scheme in itself is condemnable: it exploits consumer ignorance. Fortunately today there are other alternatives to Windows, but unfortunately, because of Microsoft's enormous market share, these took decades to develop to an equally performant level; only recently do Microsoft consumers have an equally tantalising 'ease-of-use' (at least to their knowledge) alternative, at the same time that Microsoft's own bumbles (Vista) driven its users to seek better, often less expensive, alternatives. Old habits die hard, and Microsoft had a decade's advance in ingraining these into its consumers.
Like I said, the majority of today's Microsoft consumers are well aware of Windows weaknesses and alternative OS'; for this it is no coincidence that Microsoft is setting its sights on developing countries. If I can permit myself a moment of ironic digression, I see a parallel with the behaviour of the Catholic church in face of its dwindling flock of Western-world faithful. Yes, it's all about indoctrination.
Had Microsoft used its lead to make itself the best product in the market, all the above would be (more) forgivable: instead they used. and still use, the majority of their enormous profits for... marketing: patent protection (any idea even not their own, ideas not even in development), advertising, and even underhanded techniques like spreading fake hype (paid bloggers and comment-leavers) and FUD. Microsoft's profits are so huge that all of the above expenditures don't even dent them, yet the company is still unable to create a functional and secure piece of software. Patents and licences themselves are part of the problem: Microsoft has painted itself into a patent-protected faulty proprietary-software corner. Another thing that Microsoft seems to forget: the end user doesn't care how things work "under the hood", but they are easily discouraged when they are made aware that their OS' engine is vulnerable (without ever really understanding completely why). Mac is that mustang with the bold racing stripes (and a cool dashboard) that just works, and that's all the end-user needs - or wants - to know. The end user wants to use a tool to get another job done; having to learn how the tool works itself in order to get a job done, or having to adapt one's work habits around the tool itself, is an unnecessary additional step that many users can do without. Moulding the user around the tool has always been one of Microsoft's major goals, and this is why many of its users are loathe to change.
But to return to the main course of my argument: software development isn't Microsoft's principle trade. This is not the case of other developer companies/communities such as Linux and openBSD; Apple, whose OS today relies on a *nix engine, is difficult to place in the grouping because they also specialise in hardware development. Although most every analyst is comparing the above through statistics based on "market share", I see this analysis as skewed; Linux is free. Linux may have less "value", but today they are quietly running, with the help of Apache, most of the world's web servers. Linux development is constant, community-based, and, because it is open-source, anyone can compile a program for it. But I digress.
I'm sure that you can see now that the companies whose future I do believe in are *nix and Mac. Mac is a case apart: their speciality is, and always has been, the "common user", and all of their development, at least in the "Jobs years", has been wowing/making a simpler/better OS experience for the same. Jobs' innovation seems to be the result of a constant study of how users work today, how they can work better (without being thwacked into a totally new set of work habits), and how the advances in technology can be used to attain that goal. Mac has recently gained an enormous market share with its iPod and iPhone innovations; this was possible largely because to the consumer eye they were platform-independant tools, although apple provided an easy "link" to many platforms with its (sometimes controversial) iTunes music program. Mac puts bettering a user experience before anything else; this in itself can be considered a marketing scheme - but an irreproachable one. Jobs is at the centre of all this, and I won't hide that when I think of an Apple without him, I worry for that company's future as well.
The above is why Microsoft has always dogged in Mac's innovation footsteps - it is a company focused on what a consumer will buy (or how he can be made to buy), before anything else. Take windows (second to adopt the mouse, "mac-like" gui, amongst other features) and the Zune for examples of coming in second (or in the latter case, almost last) innovation-wise. Because they didn't come up with the idea in the first place, they are forced to do it "differently"; because of their patent/licence restrictions, they have to (reverse-)engineer their "new" product from scratch, and a "different but the same" look design-wise usually ends up in failure if the result is not up to par with the widely-accepted product that (cough) inspired the design in the first place.
I think my earlier Catholic-church analogy was a good one: the more educated we become, the more choices we have; both Microsoft and the Vatican rely on the lesser-educated/indoctrinated (and loathe to change) for their income, and this is why both are setting their sights on developing countries today. Not only is the west better educated about its choice of tools, but its communication/community habits have changed as well: we no longer have to rely on salespeople to tell us what's good or not, and a product's real quality, no matter the magnanimity of its ad campaign, can be exposed and spread to all within a number of days. Vista was a prime example (victim) of this.
Microsoft has little chance for continued success in the environment described above. If they had any b*lls, they would switch their sights to making a computer experience better for the end user, just as Mac does. This would involve a total change of ethic, staff, and branding - but the most major change by far would be their scrapping their buggy/virus-vulnerable over-patented core - just as Mac did. I don't see this happening anytime soon, but I really hope they use their still-large lead and still-huge resources to a good end.
I think I can sum up the increasingly shrill right-wing's motives into one phrase: Keep the money flowing into the same pockets.
For that the benefits of the American economy continue flowing into the same pockets, there would have to be a sort of managed stagnation: as we are a naturally progressive society, the only means of preventing us from moving forward to newer technologies and ideas would be to submit our populace to a constant barrage of misinformation and dumbing-down about the real value (and existence of) of all that is available to us in the world today. This is what the right-wing is all about, and this is exactly what has been happening since decades.
Those on the economic recieving end of the above are the most silent players in the same story. The loudest and most shrill pundits of the right-wing agenda only feed off these: most of the feeders a) see themselves as being one of the 'well-connected' or 'privileged elite' or b) are getting some sort of financial support for their 'points of view' that benifits the financial supporter or c) see themselves as the 'enlightened leaders' over, to the benifit of the leaders, an optimally mindless society (message: "here's what you should think") or d) a mix of any of the above. In all cases, the goal for all the above is: keeping things exactly as they are.