Playing God


Imagine you are God and you decide to create a universe.  When you create this universe you set it up as a game with three broad conditions.  To “Win” the game two intelligent species have to meet each other and communicate.

Broad Condition number 1:  Entropy

The Universe begins with a huge injection of energy.  You have this big bang which creates all these galaxies, stars, planets and moons.  From the point of origin they will all drift outwards.  As they drift outwards the energy of the creation will eventually dissipate.  The end state for this creation is death.  Cold dead pieces of rock drifting ever outwards away from each other.

Broad Condition number 2:  Evolutionary time

In order for these intelligent species to meet each other the species must firstly evolve.  You cannot put icing on a hot cake straight out of the oven.  It has to cool down.  The steam has to evaporate.  The conditions need to be right.  So in this universe it takes time for life to develop from primordial chemical soup.

A couple of billion years for development of photosynthesis so that oxygen can be produced.

A billion years to the development of Eukaryotes  and another billion to develop into multi-cellular organisms.  And all this time those galaxies are drifting apart, drifting apart.

Then things can speed up.  From the first multi-cellular organisms it only took another billion years to see the arrival of hominids.  From the arrival of early hominids it only took a million years to the arrival of civilization.  Then it only took 7,000 years for us to leave our planet and reach the moon.

We reached the moon in 1969.  With a bit of luck it may take only 100 years from there to put a man on Mars.  But even then we will not have reached Level 1 on the Kardashev scale and if we are to “Win” the game we will need to become a Level 3 Kardashev civilization. We need to become a Galactic civilization.

Broad Condition Number 3:  Resource Constraints

Here is a sting in the tail.  Each origin planet for a species is given a delicately balanced resource package.  If those resources are not managed sensibly there is a strong possibility that a developing civilization will implode before they make the great leap into space.  Civilizations rise and fall, rise and fall over time.  But few of them have ever tested planetary resources in any meaningful way, except ours.

At the rate mankind is destroying this planet we will have poisoned our environment long before we reach Kardashev level 1.

That Fateful Meeting

And let us pretend we somehow achieved that meeting with another civilization in space.  How many humans would suggest a shoot first approach to communication?  We have a poor record of engagement with newly discovered tribes and peoples of men.  How would we fare with an alien species?



Image of Venus from Venera 14 probe.

The title of this post is in Cyrillic, and any Russian speakers will tell you it says “Venera 14” (translates as Venus 14) , the Venus lander that took 4 months and 1 day to travel from Earth to Venus, where it landed on this day in 1982.

On the surface, in temperatures of 465 °C and crushed by 94 earth atmospheres of pressure the probe functioned for 57 minutes, relaying information back to an orbiting module.  It survived for 25 minutes longer than the design requirement.  On Venus that was considered a good day.  On Earth the team celebrated.

It took the Soviet Union 18 missions to Venus before they made a successful landing.  If the exploration of Venus has taught us anything it is to Fail well.  Every failure is another step to success.

To Failure; by Philip Larkin

You do not come dramatically, with dragons
that rear up with my life between their paws
and dash me butchered down beside the wagons,
the horses panicking; nor as a clause
clearly set out to warn what can be lost,
what out-of-pocket charges must be borne
expenses met; nor as a draughty ghost
that’s seen, some mornings, running down a lawn.

It is these sunless afternoons, I find
install you at my elbow like a bore
The chestnut trees are caked with silence. I’m
aware the days pass quicker than before,
smell staler too. And once they fall behind
they look like ruin. You have been here some time.

Transition Space

Chez Hans

Transitional spaces can significantly enhance or detract from an experience. Do you recognise your transitional spaces? How do you design your transition to introduce and enhance the drama of your experience?
I was out for dinner at a local restaurant last Saturday and it got me thinking about transitional spaces. Chez Hans in Cashel is more than just a restaurant, it is an experience. The main dining room is in a restored ecclesiastical building, the old Church of Ireland Synod hall. There are no eye level windows, so passing walkers cannot have a look into the restaurant. To get in to the dining area you must commit yourself fully to the experience.
Entry is by way of a square bar room. There is no off putting hostess desk acting as a barrier to entry which is the key feature of high profile American restaurants. The reception in Chez Hans is in the back of the room. You must cross the transition space and fully enter to engage with the staff.
The room itself reeks of age, heritage and class. It is dark in the transition space. Ideal for taking people from hectic, busy lives and slowing them down before they enter the dining room. In the bar area you order a drink and they bring you the menu and the wine list. You can take your time ordering, have a chat and generally relax for a moment.
The staff can set up the table in the dining room for you before you ever enter. You will never know if your arrival caused any fuss. When you arrive at your table it will all be perfect.
The dining room itself is an airy high ceilinged room. It seems bright after the darkness of the bar, but this is an illusion. The dining room light is also muted, adding to the slowing of time and allowing you to savour your meal in pure relaxation.

Disney understand the power of the transition space to enhance excitement. Before you can step onto a roller coaster you must pass through a long entry transition, and generally in a queue. The area you walk through is carefully designed to give you clues about the ride, and to tee you up so that you get the best from your experience.

Waiting rooms are also transition spaces. They are designed to establish the power relationship between the professional and the customer/patient/client. Professional’s waiting rooms commonly display power symbols, diplomas, certificates, professional memberships, photos with high profile personalities.

Medical professionals may have several transitional spaces. A dentist administering anesthetic does not want to return the patient to the entry waiting room, where they might frighten away potential customers. There is generally a second waiting room for those “in treatment”.

A hotel lobby can be set up as a grand space, exhibiting comfort, class and high prices. A budget hotel will have a simple functional transitional space, a place to move through quickly to your room and not designed for guests to display their presence. Some very cheap hotels have a cage or grill, a warning to guests not to leave valuables lying around.

Cinemas & Theaters design the transitional spaces to raise anticipation. The cinema moves you through an area of total darkness into the sanctum of the screen. The transition is almost religious in nature, a rebirth from the norm to the world of magic. Theaters use high design, expensive curtains and sculpture, acres of plasterwork and brass to let you know you are in for a treat.

Think about your offices. When a customer calls, or an applicant attends for interview, what do they learn about your company from the transitional space? Is this the message you want to convey? How do you want clients to feel when they arrive? Do you want to overwhelm them with your brilliance?  Do you want them to feel comfortable and welcome, as though they have come home?  Do you  want to set them up with anticipation for a piece of magic?

What props do you have at your disposal?  Architectural offices frequently exhibit models of previous projects, or concept work.  In colonial times it was common for governors to display weapons on walls as symbols of raw power.  Leo Burnett’s ad agency always has a bowl of apples.  Irish International in Dublin have a bin filled with awards (we win so many we throw them away).  Is your transition space celebrating the past or the future?

Who represents your company at your reception desk?  How do they dress, speak, look etc?  Did you spend more on decorating your reception or your CEO’s office?