Oct 202013

A while back, I wrote a post about aesthetics vs. practicality in designing science fiction spaceships, which also extends to any sort of speculative design.

Recently, a discussion exploded on the same board over an initially small misunderstanding that went rampant really fast. You can read about it here, if you care to (it spans three pages). The short version is that I pointed out some conceptual flaws in this particular artist’s explanation for how the FTL1 drive works. After some back and forth, wherein the artist got increasingly hostile to having their idea poked at, they fired off a massive post/rant. I almost gave into the temptation to respond to it, but that little voice in the back of my head said, “Dude, get real. They’re not listening. They’re not going to listen. They’ve got too much baggage going into this for your points to get through. Just leave it.” So I did. I apologized for upsetting them, restated that my only goal was to share information/correct misconceptions, complimented them on their model, and wished them well on their worldbuilding. Then I bowed out.

This all played out from 10/17 to 10/18. Yet I’m still thinking about it. I don’t feel any better now than I did when it all played out; if anything, I might be feeling even worse. Enumerating all of the reasons why would take too long, but there’s one point that I wanted to home in on because I see it everywhere and it needs to die.

in case nobody told you…the FI in sci fi means Fiction!!! The concept of this system is based on an assumed understanding of physics that guess what? We don’t and may never have

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The fiction in science fiction serves the exact same role as it does in fantasy fictioncrime fiction, literary fiction, romance fiction, and every other stripe of fiction out there: it serves to indicate that the story, characters, and setting are made-up. Period. Done.

The science in science fiction clarifies the broader genre: these are made-up stories, characters, and settings where science is the driver behind what is different. New technologies, alien species, and so on; just as magic–the truly fantastic–drives fantasy fiction. There can absolutely be overlap: technological magic, magical technology, whatever you like. But these are the distinguishing features of the genres that give them a unique place.

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  1. That’s “faster than light”…but if you’re not familiar with that term, then most of this post is going to seem even more ridiculous to you. []
Jul 152010

Today marks the release of the Droid X, the latest and greatest Droid phone carried by Verizon. It’s a Motorola product, as was the original Droid (but not the Droid Incredible, which was created by HTC). Since my two year Verizon contract expired at some point in June, and Cody and I want to get on the same phone plan, it seemed like a great confluence of events — we’d renew a contract with both of us on it and get a pair of Droid X’s in the process.

Then I wake up to see a Slashdot post in my RSS feed that links to an article mentioning that the Droid X has what amounts to a “fuse” in it that will “blow” if you attempt to alter the base operating system.

If the eFuse failes to verify this information then the eFuse receives a command to “blow the fuse” or “trip the fuse”. This results in the booting process becoming corrupted and resulting in a permanent bricking of the Phone. This FailSafe is activated anytime the bootloader is tampered with or any of the above three parts of the phone has been tampered with.

There are two obvious reactions to that: “Those bastards!” and “Wait, what?” A little detail for those who may not recognize what that’s saying. At some point, Motorola’s going to stop supporting software updates for the phone. So what happens, after that point, if you want to get the latest Android update? If you’re the basic user, you’re out of luck. If you’re tech savvy, though, you modify (hack, mod, root, etc.) the phone so that you can download and install the latest update. What this is saying is that if you try to do that, your phone will lockdown and simply fail to work.

In essence, Motorola has placed a “bomb” in your device, the device that you own, that will cause irreparable1 harm to the device if you use it in way they don’t approve of. This is different than locking down software, which is bound by EULAs and so forth. When you buy hardware, you own the hardware. Period. If someone messes with your hardware, that’s a crime. Cue the class action lawsuit.

However, this may actually be bullshit. Here’s a later comment from the Slashdot article:

It’s not even clear if this information is real. TFA [mobilecrunch.com] links to a forum post [mydroidworld.com] which doesn’t seem to actually contain a source of the information (the OP states it’s a mix of “hard information” and “conjecture”). Said forum post then links to the eFUSE wikipedia [wikipedia.org] article, which lists Droid X as having an implementation of eFUSE. However, if you look at the Droid X wikipedia page linked to from there, you’ll see the original mobilecrunch.com is what is cited for the eFUSE inclusion bit.

People love a good conspiracy and reading malice into any large company, so this particular fact has been mostly overlooked. In a few days, more information will probably be available, either confirming or refuting the allegations. But even if the allegations are true, there’s hope:

eFuse is an IBM brain child, and they have it in several of their RISC products. The XBox 360 has one in its xenon (ibm power pc) processor. The Texas Instruments OMAP processors that motorola chose for their droid x are using the eFuse technology. The statement that it is not reversible via software is bull, once you figure it out, you can set up a JTag interface (as any serious modder will do anyway) and then you can reverse the eFuse bits and try your mod again.

All the same, Cody and I are going to give the Droid X a few days to accumulate reviews before we decide whether or not to buy. The reality is that neither of us is likely to mod our phone, and by the time the phone reaches its EOL2, we’ll almost certainly be ready for new hardware anyway.

  1. Irreparable by you, anyway. []
  2. End Of Life; when a developer stops officially supporting something []