Monday, April 4, 2011

The Future of Science and Technology (or The Future of Humankind)

This is a slightly expanded version of a speech I gave to the Felloship of Reason on April 3, 2011.

The Future of Science and Technology

There is a fable involving the game of chess. The story goes that chess was invented in India by one of the wise men employed by the king. The king was so pleased at this new game of chess that he allowed the wise man to choose his own reward.

The wise man said he only wanted some grains of rice - some versions of the legend say it was grains of wheat, but the result is the same - the wise man said he wanted one grain of rice on the corner square of a chessboard, two grains of rice on the next square, four grains on the third square, eight grains on the fourth square, and so on, with the number of grains doubling on each successive square of the chessboard, until all sixty four squares of the chessboard have their alloted amount of rice.

The king thought this was a most reasonable request, perhaps even an insultingly low reward. However, the king agreed to it, and called on his accountant to calculate out the rice and give it to the wise man.

Days later the king asks the accountant what the delay is, and the accountant explained how the number of grains the king owed the wise man was a huge amount - it was much more rice than was grown in the whole kingdom. Mathematically, the result is two to the sixty fourth power minus one, which in decimal is a number with twenty digits. The amount is truly astronomical. If all these grains of rice were laid end to end they would reach to the second nearest star - not the Sun, but Alpha Centauri and back. Needless to say, the king was very unhappy with this. Legend is unclear on what happened next, except that it was surely bad for the wise man.

The point of telling this fable is to demonstrate the mathematical concept of exponential growth. A function whose output doubles with a linear increase in input is an exponential. Im the cases I'll desribe, the input of the exponential function is time, with the output being various things we've found to grow as an exponetial function over time.

Perhaps the first notice of exponential growth outside of mathematics is in biology, with reproduction of an organism. In the Thirteenth Century the mathematician Fibbonacci is credited with discovering a number sequence allegedly based on the reproduction rate of rabbits. This number sequence is starts with one and one, and each subsequent number in the sequence is the sum of the previous two, so the third number is 2. The fourth is the third plus the second, or 2+1, which is three. The fifth is 3+2, which is five. The sequence continues with the numbers 8, 13, 21, 34, and on. This sequence does not double every step, and not even every other step. But if you take any number in the sequence and double it, that new number will be between the second and third numbers past the original number in the sequence, so the Fibonacci sequence doubles approximately every two and a half steps.

An actual biological population increases much like this. A dish of food seeded with batcteria will show exponential growth until the available food runs low. This brings up the idea that there's always a practical limit to exponential growth.

In the year 1959, noted scientist Richard Feynman gave a talk titled "There's Plenty of Room At The Bottom." He discussed the possibility of making very small devices. He claimed that with the technology of the time it was possible to write the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin, and read it with a microscope. He conjectured that it should be possible to take the twenty-two volume Encyclopaedia Brittanica, reduce its size to the head of a pin, and each dot in a halftone image would be still 32 atoms across, and it would be readable through an electron microscope.

Feynman ended his talk with a challenge of miniaturization: He offered one thousand dollars to the first person to make an operating electric motor that fits in the volume of a cube 1/64th of an inch on a side. Feynman's purpose in offering the challenge was to spur on new manufacturing techniques to make extremeny small devices. Within a few years someone did make a motor of the specified size, but he made the motor painstakingly by hand using traditional techniques. Feynman paid up, as he saw he failed to specify how the device was made. From a historical perspective he may have had the right idea, he was just ahead of his time.

John Von Neumann was famous as the designer of the first electronic digital computer. His basic design of using the same memory storage for both data and program instructions remains in common use today. In 1958 he noticed the increase of technoligy in his lifetime, and is credited with saying: "The ever-accelerating process of technology ... gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity on the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue." I'll come back to this idea of a technological singularity.

In 1965 an article titled "Cramming more components onto integrated circuits" was published in Electronics, an industry trade publication. Integrated circuits were first invented in the 1950's when it was realized that a transistor is small enough that two of them could be made on the same piece of silicon or germanium, the basic substrate instead of just one. The package would be the same size, except it would have six leads coming out of it instead of three. Transistor designers went on to make internal connections between these transistors, and add even more of them to the same substrate, thus the modern integrated circuit was born. The modern name for an integrated circuir, or IC as it was abbreviated at the time, is now a microchip, or even just achip. The author if this article came to the realization that the number of transistors on a chip was doubling about every year and a half. He further observed that there is nothing theoretically stopping this trend from continuing. This article was written by Gordon Moore, then head of R&D at Fairchild Semiconductor, and it is the source of what was later named Moore's Law. A few years after the article, Moore quit Fairchild and cofounded a very successful semiconductor company named Intel.

In 1986 a book was published expanding on the ideas of Richard Feynman's 1959 talk, named Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, by K. Eric Drexler. Drexler wrote of building new products and materials, not by the physical and chemical means done for centuries, but on the atomic scale, moving atomes together one by one to build up new molecules and materials.

Manipulations of atoms are already being done naturally on a massive scale. Atoms combine chemically to form molecules, but these are generally some of the simplest combinations. Biology is both the cause and result of more complicated molecules. Whenever a cell divides, its DNA splits into two strands, and the appropriate amino acids attach along the newly disconnected sites on each strand, making a perfect copy of a very long and complicated molecule. Many other biological processes take place where atoms are moved into specific places to cause specific effects, to process energy in a cell or to transmit a nerve impulse.

Scientists are studying both non-biological and biological molecules with great interest, in order to harness them to make artificial molecules to do things previously unimaginable. When basic computing elements become as small as molecules and as easily reproduced as a clump of reproducing cells, the massive parallelism may generate a computer with the power of a human brain.

About ten years ago in my online studies I came across the word transhumanism. It is a philosophy derived from humanism in that humanist ideals are considered good, but it goes beyond traditional humanism in that technology is seen as powerfully enabling tool whose power will continue to grow and enhance humanity. The great emergence of technology in the 20th Century will only continue at an ever quickening rate. There are articles related to nanotechnology as Drexler had described it, and talk of creating molecular factories to put on on every desktop, much as computers were appearing on every desktop in the 1980's. There was also talk of something called the technological singularity, as first mentioned by John Von Neumann.

The name Verner Vinge was mentioned in this context. Vinge is a now-retired professor of mathematics and computer science, but is better known as an author of science fiction. He also wrote an essay in 1993 for which he is moderately famous. The title is "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era." In it he makes this prediction: "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended." The thirty year mark from his prediction is the year 2023, just twelve years from now.

How much progress can be made in the fields of computer learning and artificial intelligence in the next twelve years? Let's look at where we're been recently and where we are now. In 1997 a conputer beat the world champion in a chess match. Less than two months ago, a computer beat the two top champion winners on Jeopardy.

So what's the definition of the word singularity? In mathematics, it is a point in a function where the denominator of a division is zero, and thus undefined. The term is also used in physics to describe the point at the center of a black hole, where the density of matter allegedly becomes infinite.

As applied to the human endeavors of science an technology, the Singularity refers to a point in time where technology, information and knowledge expand at a rate too fast for any one person to keep up, or even too fast for all humanity to keep up. When one can buy a computer for less than the cost of a good used car that is smarter than the buyer, not just in playing chess and Jeopardy, but in virtually any mental endeaver that we would call intelligence, including emotional intelligence, it's bound to make a substantial change in society.

In 2005 a popular book came out that that made similarly astounding predictions. The title is "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, by Ray Kurzweil. He's a scientist and inventer, and has written several books previously with dramatic preductions such as a computer beating the world chess champion, but this book was more popular than his previous ones, and has garnered much more attention. He makes similar predictions as Vinge, but he makes further predictions and goes to great extents to explain and justify them. Specifically, he claims that in the year 2025, a computer will be made that has the same thinking and reasoning power as a human, and this computer will sell for a thousand dollars. He claims that in the year 2045, a computer will be made that has the same thinking and reasoning power as all of humanity combined, and THIS computer will sell for a thousand dollars.

Filmmaker Barry Ptolemy read an early review of "The Singularity is Near," ran to the bookstore to buy it, and by the end of the first chapter, decided to make a film about Ray Kurzweil, his life and the concepts in the book. Ptolemy contacted Kurzweil who agreed, even though Kurzweil is also working on his own film based on the book. Ptolemy followed Kurzweil around for two years, filming all the while, and the result is the movie "Transcendent Man," recently available on iTunes and DVD.

Kurzweil talks about his father in the movie. He wants to bring his father back to life, and he seriously believes there will come a time when he can do this. It may not actually be his father's consciousness, but it will be his father's appearance from his DNA, and his mannerisms and personality from how Kurzweil and others remember him.

I've yet to see the movie "Transcendent Man," though I've watched the three-minute trailer, read many reviews, and seen many interviews with both Kurzweil and Ptolemy in the past month or two as they have gone around the country promoting the movie.

I have references below with the some of the weblinks and books I've based this talk on. If you don't want to go through them all, I suggest starting with the ones at the end. I haven't even touched Kurzweil's interest in longevity and life extension, and his desire to and belief that he can live forever. He apparently practices caloric restriction, a method proven in lab animal studies to give a healthier and substantially longer life, though it requires a strict dietary regimen. He does this to help him live to times in the near future when future medical breakthroughs will help people live even longer, until "escape velocity" in which every year medical advances extend the average human by one year. I could write a whole separate talk on caloric restriction and life extension.

So, what if or when this Singularity comes to pass, what will become of us humans? What will become of humanity?

I'll sum that up with Ray Kurzweil's own words, his last words spoken in the film "Transcendent Man." I don't think I'm giving anything away or spoiling the movie, as at least two reviews also quote this line. It's very much something one might expect him to say, the words sound pompous, yet Kurzweil always speaks with a modest tone of voice.

Ray says, "People ask me if there is a God. I say, not yet."

Notes and References

The Wheat and Chessboard Problem

The Fibbonacci Number sequence

The Technological Singularity including John Von Neumann's 1950's quote

Richard Feynman's 1959 speech on microminiaturization: "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom"

Gordon Moore, "Cramming morre components onto integrated circuits" Electronics, April 19, 1965

(1986) Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler
Online text at:

Verner Vinge's 30-year Singularity prediction, written in 1993
"The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era"

Futurist books by Ray Kurzweil
(1990) The Age of Intelligent Machines
(1999) The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence
(2005) The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

Books specific to health and life extension by Ray Kurzweil
(1992) The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life: How to Reduce Fat in Your Diet and Eliminate Virtually All Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer
(2004) Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever (with Terry Grossman, MD)
(2009) Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever (with Terry Grossman, MD)
by Roy Walford
(2000) Beyond the 120 Year Diet: How to Double Your Vital Years
Website and Society dedicated to Life Extension by Caloric Restriction

(2009) online news article "Four Singularity Movies - The World Wants The Future"

Transcendent Man (Motion Picture - Trailer, 2:59)

Transcendent Man (Barry Ptolemy) on Twitter featuring many online text, audio and video interviews with Kurzweil and Ptolemy

(2011) Scientific American, Feb. 11 The Immortal Ambitions of Ray Kurzweil: A Review of Transcendent Man

The Singularity (Motion Picture, as yet unreleased - Trailer, 3:47)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Give Me That Old Time Underground/Prog Rock

Okay, I'm late making a blog-post-a-day, but I just figured out what I want to write.

Firstly this is my "First" official post for the Blogathon thing. I'm a couple hours late, it being after midnight, though perhaps yesterday's "Test" post could count as the first, as I mention this there. So lemme tack that banner code onto the end of this post - there, now go click on it after you read this. :-)

If I didn't have enough forums and interests that take up my time, I joined two more online communities, these concerning audio equipment, stereos and such for good reproduction of music. There's AudioKarma that I'd seen off and on for years, much of it being a general discussion of what model is what and how people feel about particular models of speakers or turntables, then there's DIYAudio, a more technical site for high-end equipment design and modification.

But AudioKarma also has music discussions, and it seems much of it centers around the music that was popular when some of the older but good stereo equipment came out. I feel fortunate that at age 10, circa 1968, I tuned the radio to WPLO-FM, a station that I much later learned was part of the "Underground FM" movement. The station played many songs that weren't quite in the Top 40's, from the psychedelic era, progressive rock, and bands such as the Grateful Dead. There's some long story here with many emotions, partly concerning other things going on in my life at the time, but suffice it to say the music I heard had a great influence on me. One "problem" here is I want to know what all I heard, artists and song titles, so I can hunt down the music and hear it all again. But there's much I do remember, and with the rich content of the Web I've found most of the songs I remember, or at least info on the groups.

Here's a song I heard, as best as I recall, ONLY on WPLO-FM at the time circa late 1960's. I've only heard it ONCE since, on a Sunday Morning retrospective of WPLO as par of "Alex Cooley's Electric Ballroom" Sunday morning radio show on 96 Rock Atlanta, circa 1996. The band's name is The Left Banke, which I never would have remembered, but I did remember the song name from the 1996 playing, "Pretty Ballerina." I saw the title while seeing the 45 single on Youtube while the band's big hit "Walk Away Renee" was playing. I had no idea the same band did both songs, and I was excited to find "Pretty Ballerina and hear it again. So here it is:

This has been a True Blast From The Past. Had you been tuned to a modern radio station, you wouldn't have heard this.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

This Is A Test.

This is a test. Had this been a real blog post, you would be reading it now.

Wait. You ARE reading it. Perhaps you shouldn't be reading this.

Okay, maybe this IS a real blog post. I'm testing posting because it's been a while since I made a blog post and I want to be sure I still know how. What prompted me to make a new post is something I saw on twitter (I was looking at the #fawm tag that I had just used, to see who else and how often it's been used lately), this blogging contest about blogging every day in May. Last Novermber I wrote an average of 16,666+ words per day of fiction that adds up to 50,000 words of a novel for NaNoWriMo, so I think I can do this. Except, that, like, other people can read my blog posts.

And yes, I've done some things since my last post here, back whenever that was. Maybe I'll write about some of these things in May.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Charm: A Flash Fiction Story

For unknown reasons I cannot access the forums on where I usually post these weekly stories in the Flash Fiction Challenge forum, so I'm posting it here. Hope you enjoy it:


Ben Bradley
August 31, 02008

"You have Charm, Grace and Vitality!"

Or so said Google Dungeonmaster, after rolling up a massive realistically rendered polyhedral die. I felt the need for coffee, so I got up from the computer and made a pot. By the time I had a hot cup in my hand I had forgotten all about the silly new game other bloggers had been talking about. I wanted new shoes, and the mall was just the place to get them.

"Hi, you're in luck, we have the New Balance line of running shoes, and they're the most comfortable shoes of any type, ever, and we're getting rid of these for new stock, so they're 80 percent off." So I tried them on and indeed they're by far the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn.

"Would you like to wear them out of the store? I can put your old shoes in the box." I agreed, and we went to the register. I still can't believe I paid $19 for these shoes. I also didn't know running shoes were so expensive.

While walking through the mall I saw a kiosk selling ice cream cones, with a very attractive woman running it. When I saw her i almost changed my mind about buying a cone there, as I knew I would be so flustered just telling her my order. But as I approached she glanced down at my shoes and asked "Hey, what brand are those shoes?"

"Uh, New Balance," I said, only remembering the name because I had just bought them.

"Well, hey those are cool." She smiled at me.

I of course felt flustered and barely got out my order of vanilla with fudge topping. While making it she continued to small-talk.

"You know, everybody else wears Nike Air Max, Nike Air this, Nike Air that, you know, it's like everyone wears the same darn uniform. But you have something different, you know? It's like you're thinking for yourself instead of getting the same old style. I think that's really cool." She winked at me as she spoke those last words, then gave me the cone.

With the ice cream cone in one hand, I put down the shopping back with my shoebox to free up the other hand to get out my wallet, but then she spoke again.

"Hey, it's on me, it's my treat. Just for you."

I was dumbfounded, but managed to smile back and say "Well, thanks. Thank you very much." I don't even know how the words came out of my mouth. I'm rarely so, um ... I guess the word is eloquent.

So I walked on by toward the exit where I parked. I was thinking I'd go back home and play that online game, and that's when it hit me. I rememberd the exact words sent back to me by the humongous server farm that is Google:

"You have Charm, Grace and Vitality!"

Well, now. Maybe I did. I had no idea where this came from, but I remembered the saying 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' I knew what I had to do [stop using so many cliche's, for one thing]. When opportunity knocks, you should answer it before it knocks you out.

I turned around and walked back to ask her for a date.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Associated Press Asserts Copyright Claims

In a bold move involving copyright infringement against bloggers, and claiming zero tolerance for even the possibility of very short "fair use" quotes, The Associated Press has made itself irrelevant.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Special Delivery: A Flash Fiction Story

"I've studied their logistics and traffic. This is one of the busiest days of the year for both of them."

"Look, I can't believe you would do this. It's so bizzarre."

"It's the only way. Sure, it's expensive, but don't you think it would work? It's practically the only way to get through everything. Call it the shotgun approach."

"Yeah, but still how did you come up with this?"

"I visited my father a year ago, he shot a beer can with a shotgun, and all that was left of it was holes. That gave me the idea, on several levels. Lots a Little pellets, shipped separately, each in lots of lead shielding."

The doorbell rang. Hohn and I both went to the door.

It was UPS. "I have five packages for Timothy Smith."

"That's Me", I answered.

"Sign Here. This is just one of them, they're all heavy as lead."

We both kinda snickered. I signed, and said "John, can you help me carry in the others?"

"Sure", he answered, and we all three walked to the UPS truck to get three of the four remaining packages. I then walked back to the truck with the UPS guy to get the last package.

As I got back to the door and the truck was driving away, I said "I wasn't expecting any of them early! Wait till tomorrow, that's wen most of them are due to arrive."

"Tomorrow Dr. O'brien will come by to test all these. I don't want to open them up now, I figure we should wait until the last minute, so we don't get unneccesarily exposed."

john went home, and I had a restless night that night. Next morning I sat on the doorstep sipping my coffee. I couldn't believe it was all about to come together.

I didn't have to wait long for John and Dr. O'brien to show up.

"Morning, Tim, John says you already have a few deliveries."

"Yes, right here by the stairs."

"I've got my meter right here, how about we take 'em out on the back porch and open 'em up?"

"Gladly," I replied. I really wanted to know if this was what I paid for. Follow me." I grabbed one of the packages and went out to the porch.

Dr. O'brien pulled out his box cutter as if he always carried one around, and sliced open the cardboard on top and around the box, and peeled the cardoard away from the lead box within. The top was held on with about a half dozen pieces of duct tape. I didn't know to expect that, but you never know what you get when dealing with the underworld. He pulled off the tape, and carefully lifted the lead lid.

"Is it glowing?" inquired John.

"Not yet," said Dr. O'brien with an evil grin. He then pulled out his geiger counter, stuck the business end into the open box, and adjusted a switch on it until it gave out a good, steady several clicks per second. He looked mystified for several moments, and kept checking the geiger counter.

"What is it, Doctor?" I asked. I could tell the expression on his face wasn't good.

"This isn't what you ordered. It only gives about one percent of the radiation it should." He reached into the box and pulled out a small pellet with his fingers. John and I both took a step back, because we knew what it was, or at least what it was supposed to be, and you're not supposed to be near it.

"Well, it's heavy enough," Dr. O'brien said, hefting the little pellet up and down in his hand. "I believe this is depleted uranium. Easy enough to get, perhaps taken from some area where US troops have been shooting recently."

"So I got ripped off?" I enquired, feeling rather sick.

"Well, just for this piece that we know of. You said there were how many hundred more shipmenmts?"

About that time I heard a horn blowing in front of the house. "That must be Fed-Ex or UPS! Let's go!"

I ran to the front door, and sure enough, there was a large Fed-Ex truck outside. I flung open the door, and we all three ran to the truck. About the time we all three got to the truck, I saw men running around from both sides, and looking back, more men running from both sides of the house, some running into the front door - men carrying guns. Several of them yelled:


We were handcuffed in no time, and told "You are being charged with transport of nuclear materials. Look closely at the sun, folks. It's gonna be a loooooong time before you see it again."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Despair: A Flash Fiction Story


"So, hun, are you in the Sunday Night Chat with your, um, writerly friends again tonight?"

My wife knew the drill. We have out usual Sunday dinner, but just before Nine O'Clock I get on the Internet to chat and write a short story. I've been doing it for a few months, and I've found it to be great fun to try to stretch myself as a writer.

"Yes, dear. Looks like a good crowd tonight! There's people from all over."

"Johnathan, you mean from all over the USA?"

Oh, gee, I thought, I need to teach her a bit more about the Internet. "Yes, Paula, here's CottonCandy, he's from Nevada, Joe is from NYC, and VegemiteGrrl is of course from Australia."

"Autstralia! You're Kidding! The Internet reaches that far?"

"It sure does. I think it's like the middle of the day there. I'll ask."

So I type:
john_hack_writer: Hey Veggiegrrl, what time of day is it where you are? Is the sun up?

VegamiteGrrl: It's 10 in the morning here, why do you ask? I'm all cooped up in here, there's no window in ths room, I should step out a minute into the sun.

"See, she says it's 10 AM."

"Well, I'll be," my lovely wife says.

I decided to explain to Paula, "The Internet is worldwide, and there's the Web on it, an that's why it's called the World Wide Web."

While saying this, another line showed up on my screen:

VegamiteGrrl: Stepping out to stretch a bit, BRB

"What's BRB?" enquired Paula.

Goody, something I can explain, and she appears actually interested in this thing! I hope it's not because there's other females I'm talking to that she feels the need to check up on me. So while I have her attention I give a longer answer: "Oh, that's just one of the shorthand phrases we use, that one means be right back. It's just a polite way of saying they stepped away from the computer to get some coffee or to go to the restroom or whatever. Maybe you've heard on radio and TV ads a bunch of them, but since we claim to be 'real writers' we generally don't use many of the shorthands in chat."

"So, how long does it take after you type something before someone in Argentina can read it?"

I tried to gently correct her: "You mean Autstralia? Actually it's probably the same as Argentina as far as we're concerned, just a second or two. It takes longer for me to type a few words than for them to be sent."

It's then I noticed our friend from Austrailia posting again:

VegamiteGrrl: I just stepped outside, the sun sure seems bright for ten in the morning. I wonder if it's some sort of weather phenomenon.

That's interesting, I thought. I know enough about science and the atmosphere to know that if it's a clear day, there's nothing that can make the sun appear unusually bright. But I have another idea and ask:

john_hack_writer: Could the sun look brighter because you've been cooped up in a room with no windows for a while?

CottonCandy: I just went out and looked at the moon, it's a Full Moon out tonite and I've NEVER seen such a bright moon!

VegamiteGrrl: I guess so, John, but I don't know... it looked unusual and weird to me.

Paula was reading over my shoulder, and being in Louisiana, I was wondering about the Moon myself, but I didn't want to leave the chat, either. "Paula, you remember seeing the Full Moon last month when we went out walking last month, don't you?"

"Yes, it was a pretty cold night out," she said.

"Could you go out there now for a few seconds and look at the moon, and see if it's any different from last month?"

"Okay, but don't you go flirting with that girl from Argentina!"

She was gone before I could correct her.

As she went out, there were more posts coming in:

CottonCandy: There's something strange happening, I'm sure of it.

VegamiteGrrl: I'm gonna go look again. Maybe I was just imagining it. brb.

Paula came running back in and said, "Johnathan, the Moon IS brighter than last month! You should come out to look, it's really neat! Maybe we could take another walk tonight, it's easier than ever to see where you're going in this bright moonlight. C'mon, it'll be romantic!"

Odd that she was in the mood while giving me that news. She wouldn't just come up with something like that, and I was getting a little worried and nervous. This sort of thing doesn't happen. I've heard the hypothesis that a slightly increased energy output from the Sun is the cause of Global Warming, but this would be different. Very different and very bad.

Bob_Bachman*MOD: Our prompt for tonight's writing is posted on the board, folks. You can eithe read it there or PM me or one of the other MOD's to get it.

Well, it's time to write anyway, but Paula interrupts with another question:

"What is PM?"

"Oh that means private message. You can open a chat window with another person, and only you and the other person can see what the two of you type. It's good for side conversations." I wondered if I had just told her too much, and made her suspicious of me having an online romance. Well, that might be the least of my worries right now.

VegamiteGrrl: OMG, the sun IS BRIGHTER! Brighter than even a couple of minuts ago when I loked before. What is it? Sunspots?

Now I was truly worried. Not sure if I feel like writing now, but I PM'ed the MOD to get the prompt, in case I decided to write. But I think I'll take up Paula's offer for a walk in the bright moonlight, and we can come back and be with each other one last time. What else could there be to do if the Sun is on the other side of the world and is truly exploding?

Bob_Bachman*MOD: Tonight's prompt is: Despair. Good luck.

Oh my God, I thought, what a perfect description of how I felt. The hell with writing, chat, and the Internet for now. I had more important things to do for my last night alive on Earth.

"Paula," I said as I stood up, took her hand and looked into her eyes, "Let's go for that walk."