A new life awaits you in the Off-world colonies

Via Leiter Reports, it’s Google Mars!

Hey, just an odd thought…the distance to Mars is such that communications have a lag of tens of minutes. When I move to the new colony after I retire, am I not going to have a hard time browsing the weblogs any more? I’d send a request to go to a page via http, a half hour later the html would arrive at my computer, and if I click on a link, it’ll be another half hour wait for anything to happen. This doesn’t sound very practical. Actually, it reminds me of the Earth people in Sterling’s Schismatrix (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) Swanwick’s Vacuum Flowers (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), who have formed a hive mind but are trapped on the planet, because when subpopulations move far enough way, they become autonomous and independent of the core mind.

OK, it was a really long day yesterday, I’m still tired, and my mind is wandering…


  1. Rhys Weatherley says

    The Interplanetary Internet project was set up to deal with this. It uses regular Internet protocols at each planetary body, with store-and-forward protocols between the planets. You wouldn’t type in a URL and wait for a round-trip. You’d wait for the next synchronisation blatt from Earth to bring the two Internets into sync, and then pull it from the local cache.

    We do this now with e-mail. Responses are expected within a 24 hour period, not instantly. Even on Earth, weblogs aren’t technically instantaneous. Those of us in timezones on the opposite side of the planet are hours out of sync with the current discussion at the best of times.


  2. says

    Well, if Rhys’s deallym’bopper doesn’t work, you can be glad that all the cretinist posts will take longer to reach you, since we all know there won’t be any on Mars. On the other hand, all your fans back here on Earth would have to wait a torturous half hour longer for your sweet elixier of knowledge to arrive.

  3. says

    Now, what’s the betting that somewhere on this map the Google developers have hidden a colony of martians or something? Remember the Google Moon cheese…

  4. Eric Wallace says

    PZ, the answer is fetch-ahead. While you’re busy reading one post, your computer is off following and cacheing all the links (and links in the links, and links in the links’ links, …). Couple this with AI that knows something about your surfing habits (squid, pirates, etc.), and your hive mind experience will be nearly as complete as for the rest of us back in Jesusland.

    Hmm. Now that I think about, what makes you think all the good posts aren’t going to be coming from Mars?

  5. Alex says

    My education in quantum physics is still at the Advanced Jackfuck level, but I can’t shake the feeling that particle entanglement–especially if we could entangle massed particles–could be used to transmit information “instantaneously” between points…

    Anyone know something about this and want to enlighten me?

  6. says

    Alas, coturnix clicked too soon. The book is actually Across Real Time by Vernor Vinge though Schismatrix is a great book. The relevant passages are on pp. 458-461 of the referenced edition. This is the closest Vinge ever comes to describing the run up to the singularity.

  7. Lars says

    Actually, I believe that it’s Michael Swanwick’s Vacuum flowers that has the computer-mediated world-spanning group mind.

  8. craig says

    But it doesn’t have the roads and pizza places and starbuckses labelled like Google Earth does! :(

  9. Scott says

    The most practical way to maintain your content when you are behind a laggy connection (including terrestrial users of satellite internet) is to have a server on your side of the connection that you perform all your uploads and edits on, and it then replicates those changes (by database replication or batch uploads) to a remote server that the rest of the world sees. Even with decent internet service, its a lot nicer maintaining sites like photo galleries if you are on the same LAN as the server.

    The problem with pre-fetching at the browser level, is that if it sees a number of links on a page you are viewing and it starts retrieving those pages even though you really have no intention of looking at those pages, these requests still get sent and use up a portion of the very finite amount of bandwidth you have available, that is pretty wasteful. It would make more sense to have local mirrors of content that the users regularly read, whether its just centralized RSS feed aggregation, or a spider that fetches a few levels deep on a few select sites, or better yet that spider is actually sitting on a server back on Earth and it then pushes articles to your remote server that it thinks you’ll find interesting.

    I had been entertained by the google mars for quite a while before I even noticed the links to spacecraft and stories which lead to some other impressive imagery (yes, its great to be easily amused). I certainly expect and look forward to seeing this expanded to other planets or even the ocean floor here on this one.

  10. says

    I can’t shake the feeling that particle entanglement–especially if we could entangle massed particles–could be used to transmit information “instantaneously” between points…

    My understanding is that you can’t use this to transmit information faster than light, because (summary of something I only partially understand) you can only get information by comparing the states of the two particles, and you can only get information about the remote particle at the speed of light.

    Not that this has stopped entangled-particle ansibles from being the new hot gimmick in hard SF (especially British hard SF, I think) over the past few years.

  11. says

    Space Parasite has it right. You need classical information to tell you what measurements to make on your entangled particles, or for that matter to let you know that there’s a message.

    As for interplanetary discussion… some people laughed at Vinge putting a Usenet into A Fire Upon the Deep but really, newsgroups (and the UUCP protocol originally beneath them) were made for just that sort of asynchronous “pass it on” situation. Mailing lists would work fine as well.

    For the web… imagine a proxy server the size of Google, sucking down pages from the Earth-Moon infosphere.

  12. guthrie says

    I second the suggestion that it is “vacuum flowers”.

    SPoiler ALert!

    At the end of Schismatrix, sundry characters end up on Earth, and I dont recall it being hive mind like, more just backwards and religious, happy to have rejected technology etc.

  13. HE says

    not by choice or fault have the youth been witheld from details. the technology was created for you choose to yous it. THE point= being, an interesting idea: the religious aspect of honoring technology in the 1ST Place is an easyr way of relying on the beast to be automatic. universal time would keep everone on the same page maybe..

  14. ajay says

    No, the squid will be there before us: see “Time”, Stephen Baxter, which describes the use of Squid In Space.

    But, basically, yes: you would have to have a huge Google RAID array on Mars which would mirror lots of sites for Martian use. But bandwidth is still going to be a problem: high-bandwidth means high-frequency which takes power.

    Anyway, by the time you retire there the Marsnet will have enough of its own content that interplanetary latency won’t be an issue.

  15. Ian H Spedding says

    There’s always wormholes. Way too small to get ships through, but what about radio messages? Failing that, you’ll just have to wait until we get subspace radio.

  16. says

    Right, it was Swanwick and Vacuum Flowers that had the hive mind with the communications problem. They’re both good books, anyway.

  17. Melanie Reap says

    OK, the maps are cool but where’s The Face? There’s supposed to be a face, right??

  18. NatureSelectedMe says

    Wormholes are scary. The idea is that they’re outside the universe so there is no distance or time within them because distance and time are properties of the universe and since these are outside the universe travel between wormholes ends is instantaneous. I read an article in Analog magazine a long time ago about how to reach the stars in months. The author speculated that if a wormhole can be created, you can take one end and put it on a space ship. So one end is on earth and the other is on a speeding space ship to Barnard’s Star (for example; 6 light years away) going a large fraction of the speed of light (naturally). If you step between the wormholes, the end on the space ship would be experiencing time dilatation compared to the one on earth. But you wouldn’t see that looking through the wormhole because on the ship you wouldn’t actually feel time slowing down. Then when it arrived at Barnard’s Star only a few months (ship time) would have passed. Of course the spaceship end would be years in the future. From the perspective of the wormhole on earth, only a few months would have passed. So in effect, you would be able to reach the stars in months. The author didn’t take it a step further and write about if the space ship went back to earth. You would then have a time portal 12 years apart.

  19. Torbjorn Larsson says

    “Wormholes are scary. The idea is that they’re outside the universe so there is no distance or time within them”

    I don’t think that is correct. Wormholes exists in spacetime but their insides are not simply connected. So one can have wormholes that connects spacetime between different parts of a universe, or different universes of a multiverse.

    IIRC, it’s not known if they are allowed in general relativity, since most known solutions depend on exotic matter (negative energy density) to blow them up from Planck sizes and stabilise them, which is a theoretical tool only. OTOH, string theory permits wormholes of other kinds. It has been proposed that they exist mundanely in the Plankian spacetime foam.

    Anyhow, as for most extraordinary solutions to gravity, like Alcubierre’s faster-than-light spacedrive, it seems that the seemingly usable (here mansized) solutions so far need undiscovered exotic matter and/or more energy than the whole universe contains.

    So they are aren’t really scary, yet. ;-)

  20. biosparite says

    The minimum Earth-Mars distance is about 40 million miles, so the communicationms lag time at light speed is around 3.5 minutes. At maximun distance of about 228 million miles, the lag time is about 20 minutes, but since the sun is in the way, presumably one would have to use a relay located way off at an angle. Nevertheless, “several tens of minutes” is not right, if you use the basic chemistry qualitative analysis rule that several drops means three or four.

  21. David Harmon says

    Regarding quantum communication, there is a problem (several actually) but not the one that’s been mentioned. The communication itself is instantaneous, but it depends on a prepared supply of paired entangled particles, which are “consumed” by the communication. The catch is that one of each particle pair has to be at each end of the commlink, and they presumably had to get there at or below lightspeed. So the FTL link is usable within the event-cone of whatever’s generating your pairs.

    There are also more pragmatic problems, like keeping track of all those individual particles! See, each particle on your end is linked to exactly one particle on the other end. If you “read” a particle before its mate has been “written”, you get random data (without warning) *and* consume the pair. And if you “write” to a pair that’s already been consumed, your data is lost (again, without warning). Just to make things tougher, the entangled state is incredibly fragile, so some of your pairs will probably “decay” on their own. There may be multi-entangled states that could help a little bit, but I’m pretty sure the issue is fundamental to the technique.

    And since we’re referencing SF here, Greg Egan’s Diaspora has an interesting riff on wormholes. The protagonists go to great effort to create a wormhole generator — and then discover that the wormholes are just as long on the inside as on the outside! (Drat!)

  22. Chuko says

    Not to be pedantic, put PZ’s good, biosparite. Remember you have to double that for two way communication (ask for website, get a response), plus light speed is the theoretical maximum – reality’d be a little slower.

  23. Mike says

    It’s even worse thn Chuko says. Yes, you have the delay in sending the request, and then in recieving it. Over http, the first response is only going to return the html file. After recieving it, you know what graphics and css files to request, and you’ll wait 15 more minutes each way for those files. Then, if there are graphics referenced in the css file, you get to wait again.

    Perhaps instead of requesting pages, it makes more sense to just get a tarball of the entire site, or at least a tarball of the diff.