Heaven and Hell

What if there is an afterlife? Personally I don’t believe in one, but still. What would it be like? The Christian version is that you get judged on your behaviour in this life then go to either heaven or hell. Some versions of Christianity require that you are at the very least baptised, or that you experience being “saved” or that you have taken part in certain rituals before your worldly behaviour is considered.

These lead to awkward questions about, for instance, babies who die before they have a chance to be baptised or whatever. Will they be condemned for ever? I hardly seems fair and various versions of Christianity have ways of getting around this issue. Some suggest that such babies go to a third type of afterlife where they experience neither heaven nor hell – a sort of post life waiting room, which to me seems to be a particularly cruel version of hell!

Bebe
Bebe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is heaven like, though? It must be a pleasant place, as it is a given that it is a reward for a good life, and it has been suggested that it is a place where, the Deity, God, is glorified and worshipped, where all is light, and all the “souls” there experience the joy of being in the presence of the Deity.

Since no one who has died has reported back, the sources for these ideas come from speculation presented as fact, or, as some claim, divine inspiration, an actual message from the Deity. There’s a world of difference between these two options. In other words, it’s either a complete fiction, or absolute fact.

English: Pope Gregorius I dictating the gregor...
English: Pope Gregorius I dictating the gregorian chants (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What could we logically deduce, given, for the sake of argument, the existence of an afterlife? It could be that we are reborn in this world, as either a new human or an animal. However, no human can remember any previous existence on this earth, or even on a planet circling a star somewhere across the Universe.

Of course some people claim to remember previous lives, but strangely, these remembered lives are frequently people who were famous when they were alive, like Anne Boleyn or Shakespeare, and the people who claim to be such reincarnated people often get well documented details of their lives wrong. Of course, history may be wrong, completely wrong, but it is more likely that people who claim to remember previous lives are mistaken or even purposefully deceitful.

If we dismiss the idea of reincarnation, what then? Certainly we can throw away all we know of physics. The only thing that we can be sure of is that things will be different. It may well be that there would be something analogous to our usual physics in play but we have no way of knowing what that would be.

English: Stylized light cone based on the logo...
English: Stylized light cone based on the logo for the World Year of Physics 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may be that personality as such would not exist. No meeting with a previously expired spouse in the afterlife would occur, as the personality of the spouse would not exist, and nor would the personality of the recently expired person.

If personalities of the dead did exist in the afterlife, then this could cause issues. What if the recently expired person had remarried after a spouse had previously died. Which of the two spouses would be matched up with the recently expired person? Maybe the physics would be similar to our current physics, but different enough that one person could spend eternity with two or more people?

I get the impression that there are many more versions or varieties of hell postulated than there are heavens. Visions of hell are often detailed and gruesome. One only needs to look at the right most panel of “The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights” by Hieronymous Bosch”  to see some extreme examples.

Hell is punishment for transgressions in this world. Punishment extends “for all time” which would seem harsh as, surely any sin would be expiated eventually, just as any punishment with the exception of capital punishment in this world is time limited. However this assumes that time in this world is the same as time in the next world, and this may not be so.

A painting by Georgios Klontzas (Γεώργιος Κλόν...
A painting by Georgios Klontzas (Γεώργιος Κλόντζας), at the end of the 16th cent., of the Second Coming: a detail showing the punishment of the wicked ones at the Hell. The original whole painting at Digital Archive of the Greek Institute of Venice (Ψηφιοποιημένο Αρχείο του Ελληνικού Ινστιτούτου Βενετίας). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eternity may pass in a different way in the next world – maybe how eternity feels to the sufferer may depend on the seriousness of the transgressions. That may be fairer than for a minor transgressor to suffer through an endless time, judged by the standards of this world.

In accounts of heaven and hell both have inhabitants who have never (so far as I understand it) ever been mortal or human. Angels inhabit heaven and devils and demons live in hell. In both realms the job of the inhabitants appears to be to provide direction for the souls or entities from this world. Angels presumably assist in providing the dead souls with their appropriate rewards and devils and demons punish the transgressors.

Over the centuries people have imagined or vouchsafed a vision of heaven and hell. It seems that both heaven and hell have a hierarchy of inhabitants. The hierarchies are power hierarchies with the Deity at the top of the one, and the anti-Deity at the top of the other one. This is either a reflection of the prejudices of the person who is imagining these realms, or an interesting structural characteristic or heaven and hell.

Naturally hell is nasty and heaven is nice. I don’t know if it is some cultural bias as a result of my background and upbringing, but it seems to me that the stories and legends of hell are much more detailed than the stories and legends of heaven. My thought is that people are more interested in the gruesomeness of hell than the niceness of heaven.

English: 19th century Burmese temple painting....
English: 19th century Burmese temple painting. Tempura-like paint on cotton. 47” x 35” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly the Wikipedia articles on heaven and hell support this theory, as the section on the Christian hell is much longer than the corresponding article on the Christian heaven. The Christian heaven merely has “many mansions“, while the Christian hell is more complex. In fiction especially as exemplified by Milton’s Paradise Lost, and in myth as in Egyptian beliefs hell can be envisaged as complex hierarchies.

But basically, we have no way of knowing for sure if heaven and hell are real and separate realms from our standard world. There can be no physical contact between such realms and our own, since physics describes only the behaviour of things within a single realm and it has no purview outside of that.

The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) ...
The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1480-1505) by Hieronymus Bosch. Oil on wood triptych, 220 cm x 389 cm, now in the Museo del Prado. High-resolution version from The Prado in Google Earth. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We can’t know for sure, so while we may think that they exist and believe in heaven and hell, we should look for our ethics only in this world. Any other course is illogical.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part II
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Part II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Photography, Ancient and Modern

19th century studio camera, with bellows for f...
19th century studio camera, with bellows for focusing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I looked up the date when photography was invented I was surprised that it was first tried in 1800, if you allow the word to mean the capturing by some means or other an image created by some means or other!

While optics were known and understood well before this time, no one apparently thought of using glass to create images of views, people or anything else. If they did, there appears to be no record. Also the technology didn’t exist to record any image so created, so it would have been pointless to do so anyway, though artists may have been able to benefit from an image projected onto a canvas as a guide.

The geometry of a pinhole camera as seen from ...
The geometry of a pinhole camera as seen from the X2 axis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So before “the camera” we had “the camera obscura”. A camera obscura is basically a darkened room with an image created by a pinhole camera projected onto a white screen.  They are fascinating to visit and I highly recommend visiting one.

When the means for creating an image (a lens) came together with a means of capturing the image photography was born. At first the techniques were hit and miss with wet plates coated in chemicals to capture the image and simple lens to create the image, and a long exposure time.

Brownie2 lens
Brownie2 lens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But techniques and technologies quickly improved and exposure times came down. In the early days, when sitting for a photograph, the long exposure times meant that braces had to be used to prevent the sitter from inadvertently moving and spoiling the photograph.

The image of a photographer in those days was of a man hiding under a dark cloth doing mysterious things with his camera, maybe firing off a tray of flash powder to record the image on a glass plate, then dashing off to his “dark room” to process and fix his image onto the glass plate with dangerous chemicals. The end result was an image with light and dark reversed, a so-called “negative”.

New dark room, Boston Camera Club, Bromfield St.
New dark room, Boston Camera Club, Bromfield St. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of these early cameras were works of art, with shining brass trimming, great leather bellows and polished wood bodies and plate holders, all mounted on a substantial tripod. Great brass screws could move the lens closer to or further from the body which held the plate and often could move the lens up and down or from side to side to compensate for perspective distortions.

Several things eventually brought photography in reach of the man in the street. Firstly, it became possible to record the images onto a strip of plastic, which meant that the camera only had to be loaded once in a while. At the same time, it became possible for you to hand your film to the local chemist or apothecary and have the films developed and positive images printed on cards.

English: J. J. Williams, Portrait of Hawaiian ...
English: J. J. Williams, Portrait of Hawaiian woman. Print from glass plate negative. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The rise of mass production allowed cameras to be produced very cheaply, and the Box Brownie arrived, costing two British pounds. Anyone could be a photographer. To be sure corners had to be cut, so the Brownie was a simple box with small and very simple lens, and the shutter was simply a plate that usually blocked light from entering.

On pressing the shutter lever a spring was tightened until the plate flicked over, giving the lens a brief look at the outside world. The film strip was held on one spool and transferred to another. A window in the back of the camera showed the backing strip of the film and you would the film on until the next number showed in the window.

Kodak SIX_20 'BROWNIE' E
Kodak SIX_20 ‘BROWNIE’ E (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The user aimed the camera by using a crude “viewfinder”. This was simply a window in the top of the camera which allowed the photographer to look down on a tiny mirror which reflected the view in front of the camera. It was around a centimetre wide and pointed only more or less in the same direction. To switch from landscape mode to portrait mode you turned the camera over and looked into a similarly minute viewfinder!

Of course things rapidly moved on from there. People loved the Box Brownie and soon handheld cameras of all sorts appeared. Some had two linked lens arranged piggy back style as in the Rollieflex, and some had a single lens, like the Hasselblad. Those two were high end machines, and featured switchable components and high quality lenses and other accessories. They tended to be favoured by professional photographers.

Hasselblad 500C
Hasselblad 500C (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most other cameras were built on a different design, though. Most featured a eye level viewfinder, and cheaper ones usually didn’t have interchangeable accessories. Most moved away from the spool to spool system to the 35mm cassette. Really cheap cameras eventually had a drop in cassette system.

Two other big changes were the introduction of colour film and the single lens reflex system. Many photographers used to monochrome film were appalled by the advent of colour film and swore never to change to it. Most amateurs adopted it with enthusiasm of course. Eventually everyone (almost) used colour.

Empire-Baby camera
Empire-Baby camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The single lens reflex system allowed the photographer to see exactly what he was shooting as the viewfinder looked through the same lens through which the image was captured. Generally the viewfinder was eye level but the Hassleblad was an exception retaining the waist level view point.

The more expensive cameras had knobs, dials and buttons all over them, but the cheaper varieties had only a few, and some did not have any controls. All used film cassettes and most had flash devices for low light level conditions.

English: A very popular collectible made even ...
English: A very popular collectible made even more popular by its appearance in the 2nd Harry Potter movie. This is just a cool camera, from its impressive dials and gears, to its nifty two-tone skin and bright chrome trim. This example is shown topped with the clip-on selenium meter. Because of its shape (and weight), the Argus C3 is affectionately known as “The Brick”. Made from 1958-66. Polski: aparat fotograficzny Argus C3 Matchmatic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then along came digital. Film disappeared, to be replaced by flash storage. Most cameras lost their viewfinders, which were replaced by small screens covering the whole of the back of the camera. Many settings could be set using the screen and a few buttons, and the cameras sizes shrunk. Some these days are credit card size.

But now, it seems that the so called “compact digital cameras” have briefly had their day. Every smartphone has an embedded camera, and people are not buying the compacts. Some smartphones now come with Leica lens technology.

English: Leica III camera with both the Clear ...
English: Leica III camera with both the Clear and Amber lens attachments. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The result? Billions (if I’m not mistaken) of absolutely atrocious photographs spamming the Internet. From cute cats to drunken revellers, everything is now floating around out these. But I’m optimistic. Real photographs and real photographers are still out there. Somewhere.

 

 

Thus it was written….

1976 The beginning of flexible computing in pu...
1976 The beginning of flexible computing in public health. Auditorium A at CDC, converted to a war room for the Swine Flu crisis, is filled with epidemiologists and a Digital Equipment PDP 11 minicomputer the size of a refrigerator. A program called SOCRATES, written in FORTRAN by programmer Rick Curtis, allowed an epidemiologist to define questions, enter data, and summarize the results in tabular form without the aid of a programmer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever noticed that a computer program never does exactly what you want? Oh, it will process your data for you, and produce results that you can use, or it will move those files from here to here, but may move ones that you didn’t want moving or leave ones that you did want to move. But it won’t do exactly what you want, first time with no hassles.

Of course you can make it work for you, make it do what you want more accurately, but you have to work harder to make it do so, and programs are supposed to make things easier, right? Take this very editor that I am using to compose this post. I thought the bold words above as I wrote, but I needed to perform an action to make them come out bold and another to ensure that the text after the bold words didn’t also come out bold.

JWPce is a Japanese Word Processor, this softw...
JWPce is a Japanese Word Processor, this software is under GNU license. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course this is a very minor consideration and if I were to find a program that changed the font to bold for one word and then stopped, I’d probably find it irksome to bold two words in succession. Also, I’d bet the house that there would be something that the first program did automatically or easily that would be difficult to achieve using the second program.

Those who are not programmers seem to have an ambivalent attitude to programs. On the one hand, if they are using a program and they can’t get it to work, they blame themselves. “I must be doing something wrong!” comes the impassioned plea. So the technophile in the household has to interpret what helpful statement “It doesn’t work!” really means and what how the program expects in the way of input. Problem fixed. Until the next time.

Broken mirror
Broken mirror (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the other hand, the non-programmer will accept it without question when the hero/heroine of the film briefly types something at the computer and the world is saved! Hooray! The sentient virus destroying humanity is defeated! Hooray again!

However these issues with programs are not bugs. The program is not doing something wrong. The issue is with our expectations of how things ought to work. It may well be that the program is designed to do things differently to those expectations, either because the programmer assumes that the way that he codes it is the way that people will expect things to work.

If the programmer gets a lot of issues with a particular feature of his program, he may decide to change it to fit more closely with the expectations of the users, and then send out an update. It is likely that he will then get a lot of issues from those people who have been using the program for a while and have come to expect it to behave the old way. The programmer can never win.

I’ve done quite a bit of programming over the years, thankfully mostly for myself. Every program that is written these days usually fits into what might be called an ecosystem. There are programs to gather data, programs to crunch data, and programs to display the results, but there are many programs to perform each of these three tasks.

English: 2008 Computex: A panel of embedded sy...
English: 2008 Computex: A panel of embedded system by DM&P. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, the results may be printed on a printer, either as a table of data, or as graph or pie chart, or in these days of 3-D printing, a physical object, or it may be displayed on a screen, or in any other way where the recipient can interrelate with it.

Data input may typed in, drawn in on a graphical input device, or it may be collected by some means or other from sensors or other devices. Your heartbeat may be collected from a number of sensors on your skin, read by a machine and be printed off on a roll or paper, while at the same time being displayed on a local screen. It may also be sent off to some remote location where specialists may peruse it.

Fetal heart beat 200 bpm. Ultrasound scan. Pro...
Fetal heart beat 200 bpm. Ultrasound scan. Provided as-is. Please feel free to categorize, add description, crop or rename. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the middle, between input and output comes the processing or crunching of the data. This is what most people think of when they think of computer processing. Somewhat unfairly the input and output processes are relegated to only secondary interest. This is, however, what a program or system is written to do. Even so, input and output processes may be complex.

Data may be processed in several different ways in between input and output, and by several different programs. There are layers within layers. For example a program that takes advantage of a database uses many layers. The program which the programmer is writing will no doubt call programs (called APIs or interfaces) within the environment that he is working in which start the process of communicating with the database.

Read-copy-update
Read-copy-update (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The API puts the programmers request into a form that the database expects and sends it to another process, not usually part of the programmer’s chosen system, which exists only to connect the programmer’s program (and any other similar programs) to the database.

At the database end the receiving part of the database system receives the request and passes it to the main database program, which checks it and executes it. During the execution process the database program makes calls to system programs which perform any necessary retrieval or writing of the data to the system’s file system, via the system’s hardware interface with the storage system.

I’ve collapsed many layers in the explanation above. The main point is that the programmer’s program is the tip of the iceberg, and there are many layers which are called into action during the execution of the program. To complicate things further, the system that the programmer uses to perform his work is also a program and has its own layers on top of layers.

This explains why programs don’t ever do exactly what you want. The programmer has to use utility programs which, while flexible can’t do everything. The utility programs are also flexible, but are interfacing with other programs, which while flexible also can’t do everything. And so on.

English: TM-database
English: TM-database (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The more flexible a program is, the bigger it is, as it has be programmed to enable the flexibility. So, this forces constraints on it, which impose constraints on the programmer, whose program therefore imposes constraints on the user of the program. And those constraints are why the program can’t do exactly what you want, but usually, it’s close enough that the program is useful to the end user. Most of the time.

Angry Penguin
Angry Penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Water, the cause of surfing.

English: Environmental Science student samplin...
English: Environmental Science student sampling water from a stream. Picture courtesy of Environmental Science program at Iowa State University. (www.ensci.iastate.edu) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I came across one of those pages on the Internet which state something like “At least a few molecules of the water in your body probably passed through the kidneys of Julius Caesar“. They generally use statistics to show that what they are saying is true.

Only those who believe in homeopathy should be disturbed by this. To anyone else, a molecule of water is a molecule of water, and the fact that it had once been contained in a stream of urine is irrelevant. In any case it is too late. 60% of our body is made up of water, so water from Caesar’s urine is already in us.

Julius Caesar, Summer garden, Saint-Petersburg
Julius Caesar, Summer garden, Saint-Petersburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Water is a fascinating chemical. It carries stuff around as it is the basis for blood and lymph and all the other fluids of our bodies. It carries nutrients up the stems of plants. It wears away mountains and builds rocks, it cools lava to form other rocks. It brings nutrients to our crops and washes them away. It even sinks ships.

“You are water
I’m water
we’re all water in different containers
that’s why it’s so easy to meet
someday we’ll evaporate together.”
― Yoko Ono

It’s difficult to think of any occurrence in our familiar world which is not mediated or affected by water in some way. Shortage of water to a society is a disaster, as food cannot be produced, leading to famine and deaths.

Much of the western U.S. is in "extreme d...
Much of the western U.S. is in “extreme drought” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Water is thought by most people to be liquid at usual temperatures, though there are some places where it is to be found in solid form. Actually there is a great deal of it around in the gaseous phase, or vapour. We measure this airborne water in terms of the humidity or wetness of the air.

Water is extraordinarily pervasive and can be found in all the nooks and crannies in the materials that we have around us. It acts as a lubricate, and if the water is driven off, by heating or chemical means things become stiff and fragile. Even so, water cannot be completely removed from things – even a diamond probably has a few entrapped water molecules.

Water molecules attaching to each other by hyd...
Water molecules attaching to each other by hydrogen bonds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Water plays a role in rotting things down. A corpse kept in a very dry environment desiccates and turns leathery and fragile. I guess that this is because the organisms that rot a body away cannot function in a water free environment.

A body of liquid water fills things from the bottom up. Gravity pulls the water down to the lowest parts of a container and water continues to layer the container. The surface appears to be flat, but that is an illusion. At a small scale, if a tiny bit of the water happens to be higher than the rest of the water, gravity will pull it down, while the other water molecules resist by being in the way.

English: Dilmah - photo by me on today.
English: Dilmah – photo by me on today. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eventually as the water stills, the differences in level even out, and the water surface becomes as level as it can. However, at the molecular level, molecules of water, which are moving relatively fast on these scales, can pop out of the liquid and float away. Other molecules can also pop in to the liquid, so that on average the water is level.

Why doesn’t the surface appear blurry and ill defined then? Well we can’t see at the molecular scale, and also the water molecules form weak electrical bonds with each other. A water droplet is like a large crowd of people all milling about, holding hands much of the time. Those on the outside are not as tightly bound as those further in.


Embed from Getty Images

Imagine now that the crowd is surrounded by a storm of people who are moving faster, and are more spread out so they rarely join hands. One of these gaseous people will now and then bump into the crowd. They may knock loose one of the crowd who will shoot off and become one of the gaseous people, while gaseous person who hit him may now be travelling more slowly and link up with the crowd.

Even in the macro world a water surface is rarely really flat. The dynamic nature of the flatness is apparent when a container is jolted slightly and tiny waves form on the surface as compression waves disturb it. Wind and rain also cause visible disturbances in a lake or pond.

Surface waves
Surface waves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flowing water often forms a smooth, if not level surface. A submerged rock in a river or a weir or fall in a river can form persistent ripples of flumes as the water flows over them. Kayakers know to aim their craft at a flume to safely descend a rapid or waterfall, although downstream of flumes the river often forms “haystacks” where turbulent water is forced into humps which can prove difficult to navigate.

A little stream may be described as turbulent as it makes its way over and around boulders and small drops, but interestingly it is not random. It is not chaotic. A close look will reveal that the bow waves of stones in the flow may flutter and throw off little whirling vortexes, but the bow wave and the pattern of vortexes persists. The little waterfall over a small stone ledge persists, even though the shape of the waterfall may ripple a little.

Ripple effect on water.
Ripple effect on water. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In large bodies of water, such as lakes and seas, winds form waves which can travel many thousands of kilometres across oceans and seas. Water waves don’t represent the movement of water over those distances – the only thing that moves is the energy in the wave. Water molecules in a wave move mainly up and down and only a little forwards and backwards.

Circular water current in a wave
Circular water current in a wave (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However when a wave travels over a beach or shoal, the movement in the vertical direction is curtailed, and the energy is transformed into a forward motion – the wave breaks. Water is transported forward, with the water higher up moving faster than the water at the sea bed which may be water draining off the beach from the previous wave and the wave steepens until it collapses. Hence surfing!


Embed from Getty Images

 

Real or virtual caving? What’s the difference?

Grjótagjá caves near Mývatn lake, Iceland. Fra...
Grjótagjá caves near Mývatn lake, Iceland. Français : Grotte et source de Grjótagjá près du lac Mývatn, en Islande. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A bit less than a year ago I posted about caves virtual and real. I’m going to expand a bit on this today.

I worked for many years as a Linux Systems Administrator, a job which I loved and to a large extent brought home with me. I run a number of Linux systems at home, including the computer that I am writing this on. I have a system that I refer to as my “server” which I use for backups and for things that might get in the way on my desk computer.

Tux, the Linux penguin
Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Minecraft was a craze some time ago I didn’t get involved at first but when my grandkids got into it I became interested. In Minecraft you can build elaborate structures, but to do so you need to find and extract the necessary materials, and, depending on the server that you are using, fight off automatic monsters (“mobs”) and other players.

I installed the Minecraft client, tried it out and liked what I saw. However, playing on other peoples’ servers soon became less than satisfactory. I didn’t like the unrealistic ability to “fly” (not fall down when unsupported by things) and the combative aspects of the game were found on many servers.


Embed from Getty Images

So, I investigated and tried running my own Minecraft server. This is possible, and not particularly tricky, you still have to pay for the client. There’s nothing wrong with paying for things, of course, and I did pay for it, but being a Linux user I’m always interested in seeing if there is a free version out there. Not of the actual Minecraft naturally, but of a similar program.

Minetest is a very similar program to Minecraft, works in much the same way, but is free, and there were Linux packages available, meaning that the install was simple. So I installed the packages and started playing. (I later downloaded the source code and compiled it, but that is another story. The packages worked fine).

Install debian
Install debian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pretty much everything that you can do in Minecraft you can also do in Minetest. The differences are minor. So everything I say from here on will probably apply to either program.

The game is all about assembling resources to build things, and you assemble resources mainly by mining. You whack a block (say stone) with a tool (say a steel pickaxe) and it disappears and appears in your inventory. When you have enough blocks you can build a wall of them by taking them from your inventory and placing them appropriately. That is the start of your fortress or palace.

English: Old house with flint front wall, John...
English: Old house with flint front wall, Johnson Street, Ludham This house on the A1062 has a beautiful front wall made of squared-off blocks of flint. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A plain stone building is boring, so you will want to acquire some fancy blocks to smarten it up and that is where the game shines. You can make fancy blocks to place on your building, but to do that you need to acquire resources and fabricate or “craft” them. The resources are found under the ground, which requires you to dig down to get them, which is of course where the “Mine” part of the name comes from.

If you dig downwards (on a slope, so that you can return to the surface eventually) you will sooner or later encounter a void or space where there are no blocks. Hopefully you will avoid falling to the bottom and dying. If you carefully climb down to the bottom of the void you are are the bottom of a virtual cave.

The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment at EVL,...
The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment at EVL, University of Illinois at Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The cave may have blocks which look slightly different to the normal blocks. These blocks contain resources, usually ores, that can be collected and used to make other special blocks. For instance a block with iron ores in it can be used to make steel ingots, which can then be used to make steel pickaxes and other useful tools.

The game’s caves are similar in many ways to real caves. The topography of the caves is varied, with narrow passageways in some places, deep clefts in others, potholes, and sometimes openings to the surface.

English: Middle Washfold There are several cav...
English: Middle Washfold There are several caves and pothole entrances near here. The top layer of limestone pavement seems separate from the rock beneath which has eroded in a different way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course it is dark underground. That means that you need to manufacture torches and carry them in your inventory if venturing underground. A torch placed on the wall will illuminate a small area of the cavern leaving dark voids beyond the torchlight which might be interesting to explore!

The game’s caves often have, just like real caves, uneven floors and there will be much jumping over obstacles, and climbing up and down. Some caves do have flatter floors, as do many real caves.

English: Subglacial pothole on Pothole Dome.
English: Subglacial pothole on Pothole Dome. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some game caves have sloping floor, much like a staircase, and the roof also may slope down, giving the impression of a sloping slit, as is often found in real caves. It is not advisable to skip down the slope into the darkness, of course, as the slope may end in a drop, as may also be found in a real cave.

Game caves are often elongated, just like real caves, and may form large interlinked caverns. Cross passages may start way up on the walls of the caverns, just as happens in real caves. It’s often possible to travel some distance more or less horizontally before one has to climb up or down to continue.

Game caves do not often contain water, which is unlike most real caves, and when they do the water is either in the form of a waterfall or a lake. Long flowing river of water are not common in game caves. Sometimes a cave will contain a lake of lava, or a lava fall which often looks spectacular. Both lava and water may form short flows but will quickly “seep” into the rocks.

Some of the potholes are spectacular. As they are underground and dark, one cannot see the bottom. Often they can edged or mined around and descended that way. Looking back up one can see the torches that one placed on the way down as tiny lights, often to spectacular effect.

An abandoned mine near Yerington, Nevada, Unit...
An abandoned mine near Yerington, Nevada, United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve explored both real caves and game caves, there is a great deal of similarity in the experience. In both cases, one has only limited visibility around one, one has a sense of void, and a sense that one may fall. There’s the thrill of discovery as one explores, and a sense of achievement. Unfortunately in the game caves, there are no stalactites and stalagmites to decorate the cave, but perhaps someone will write some in some time.

Entrance to the REACTOR, at the , a cultural /...
Entrance to the REACTOR, at the , a cultural / history museum in Athens. The REACTOR is a CAVE virtual reality system sold by Trimension. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

Virtual Reality


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Back in 1999 I was just finishing my Masters degree at Victoria University of Wellington. I needed a subject for my research paper and I chose what was then a hot topic, Virtual Reality (VR). At the time, the computing resources that were available to most people were, by today’s standards pretty limited.

17 years ago we measured RAM in megabytes, and disk space in gigabytes. The Internet was not as pervasive as it is today, and most people, if they accessed the Internet at all, used dial up modems. Broadband was for most people, still in their future. As were smartphones and all the technology that we immerse ourselves in today.

Exploded view of a personal computer
Exploded view of a personal computer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As could be imagined, this limited the effectiveness of VR. If you were trying to set up a VR session between two geographically separated places, then the VR experience could be somewhat limited by the low resolution, the speed of updates of the views that the users experienced, and the lags caused by the (relatively) slow connections.

Nevertheless, research was taking place, and Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) and VR gloves were researched and developed. The HMDs provided the user with displays of the virtual world around him/her, and the gloves provided the tactile element to some extent.

English: zSight HMD by Sensics, Inc.
English: zSight HMD by Sensics, Inc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These devices have their current descendants of course, though more is heard of the HMDs than the gloves. The HMDs range from the highly developed devices like the Oculus Rift right down to cheap devices like Google Cardboard which literally that, a head mounted device consisting of a cardboard body and a cellphone. The cellphone’s screen is divided into two and different images are provided to each eye for the 3-Dimensional effect.

It was evident, back in 1999 when I wrote my paper that VR was a technology looking for an application, and it still is. Some TVs have been made which incorporate 3D technology, but the production of these appears to have tailed off almost completely. Apparently the added ability to experience movies in 3D which involved wearing special headsets, wasn’t enough to offset the necessity to wear the headsets.


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People just used their imaginations when immersed in a program or movie and didn’t feel that they needed the extra dimension, and the headset added a barrier which prevented experience of shared movie watching that forms at least part of the entertainment value of watching movies with friends and families.

My paper was about diffusion of VR techniques into everyday life, and it mostly missed the point I think in retrospect (though the paper did help me get the degree!)  My paper used a Delphi Technique for the research. This technique involves posing a series of question on the research topic to a number of specialists in the field. Their answers are then summarised and passed back to the whole panel. Any subsequent comments are then also summarised.

English: Temple of Apollo in Delphi
English: Temple of Apollo in Delphi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obviously as workers in the field my panel was positive about VR’s then prospects, as you would expect. They however did sounds some notes of caution, which proved to be well founded. I’m not going to do a critique of my paper and the panel’s findings, but I will touch on them.

Specifically, they mentioned that my questions were all about fully immersive VR, which is basically what I’ve been talking about above, the HMD thing. Augmented VR, where our view of the world in not (fully) obstructed by the technology, but the technology enhances our view of the world is used much more in practise, and was when I wrote my paper too.

Augmented reality - heads up display concept
Augmented reality – heads up display concept (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Augmented VR is things like Head Up Displays (HUDs) and Google Glass where information is added to the user’s field of view, providing him/her with extra information about the world around him/her is much more common. HUDs are common in planes and the like where the operator cannot spare the time to go and look up important information so the information is projected into his field of view. Google Glass was similar but allowed the user to feed back or request information, but unfortunately this did not really catch on and was dropped.


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I mentioned in my questions to my panel that maybe the speed of the Internet was a barrier to the introduction of VR into everyday life. The panel were mostly sympathetic to this viewpoint, but in summary thought that fibre, which was on the horizon would significantly reduce this barrier to the everyday adoption of VR techniques. In fact people do not use the extra bandwidth for VR (except in a way that I will touch on in a minute), but for other things, like streaming TV shows and downloading music.

English: Screenshot of NcFTP downloading a fil...
English: Screenshot of NcFTP downloading a file Category:Screenshots of Linux software (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I envisaged it, a typical VR setup would consist of someone in, say, London, with VR set interacting over the Internet with someone in, say, Tokyo who also has a VR set. They could shake each other’s hand, and view and discuss three dimensional objects in real time, regardless of whether the object was in London or Tokyo. Although I had not considered it at the time, a 3D printer could duplicate a 3D object in the other location, if required.

This has not happened. Teleconferences are stubbornly 2D, and there is no call for a third dimension. Some people, myself included, would not miss the 2D visual aspect at all, would quite happily drop back to voice only!

English: Washington, DC, August, 14, 2007 -- T...
English: Washington, DC, August, 14, 2007 — This FEMA video teleconference with the FEMA regional directors, state Emergency Operations Centers and Federal partners concerns Hurricane Flossie which is expected to pass just south of the island of Hawaii and Tropical Storm Dean which is building in the Atlantic and moving west toward the Caribbean Sea. FEMA’s National Response and Coordination Center (NRCC) is activated at Level 2. FEMA/Bill Koplitz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In one respect, though, VR has come and has taken over our lives without us realising. When we interact with our smartphones, texting, sending photos, emails and so on, in real time, we are immersing ourselves in a new sort of VR. When we are chatting about something and someone gets the cellphone out to google the Internet to check or look something up, we are delving into a new Virtual Reality that we could not have envisaged way back in 1999.


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So when I look back at my paper from that era, I could easily update it and make relevant to the current era, but only in the respect of that limited view of VR. That has not really eventuated, and most likely will have limited application (remote appendectomy anyone?), but it could be considered that facebook/twitter/google/gmail/dropbox and all the other tools that we use on our smartphones has opened up a different alternate Virtual Reality that crept up on us while we were not watching.

facebook engancha
facebook engancha (Photo credit: Wikipedia)