Two Kinds of Time Travel

As I am prone to do, I spent an inordinate amount of time over the weekend considering the concept of Time Travel.  Central to any and all discussions of time travel, once you’ve accepted the possibility of it, is the paradox.

The most common of which can be described simply: you build a time machine, go back in time to before you built it and stop yourself from building it.

If you stop yourself from building a time machine then you can’t have stopped yourself from building it, so you will build it and can then go stop yourself…  It’s confusing to even talk about because impossible logical loops make most people’s brains hurt.  You’ve heard this before, though probably more in the “go back and kill your grandfather” mode where you actually prevent yourself from being born and then wouldn’t be alive to travel back and prevent yourself from being born which means you’d be alive, and so on…

So, taking that into account, there exists only two kinds of time travel that are logically possible.

The Closed Loop

In the closed loop, you can’t change anything.  If you were to go back in time to try to prevent yourself from building the time machine, you will, in some fashion, fail at your task.  In fact, unless you recall someone trying to stop you when you were building your time machine, not only will you fail, you won’t even get to try.

Going with the grandfather example.  Your grandfather tells you a story about this one time he was almost hit by a car, but he jumped clear, the car swerved, drove off an embankment and the driver died in a fiery wreck.  When you are older, you build a time machine and on your journey you decide to visit your grandfather as a young man, you see him on the street, lose control of the car you are driving, almost hit him but he dives clear, the car swerves and drives over an embankment and you die in a fiery wreck.

What makes the closed loop interesting as a story telling device is that no matter how much evidence you provide that things cannot be changed, the reader, along with your protagonist, will fight you and insist that it can be changed.  The challenge of using a closed loop is craft the story in such a fashion that even though the inevitable inevitably happens and nothing changes, nothing changing turns out to be what needed to happen to get the resolution the story demands.  The book and movie The Time Traveler’s Wife actually handles the closed loop very well.  It manages to tell a compelling love story while both characters experience it in different orders, and even with every event being unchangeable the expectations of the audience is twisted to keep elements of it surprising.  In fact, the only real sticking point it has (the lottery ticket) is handle well enough that it still fits within a closed loop design.

The Parallel Reality

In this kind of time travel, you can change things, but by doing so you create a separate reality.  You build a time machine, you travel back and then you successfully prevent yourself from building a time machine… but you still have the one you built, so you hop back in and return to your own time, two weeks from this moment, only to discover you are now at the correct time, but in a world where you didn’t invent the time machine.  You are an anomaly, because the other you, the one without a time machine, is still hanging around – he doesn’t have a time machine to get into a vanish with unless he steals yours.

Meanwhile, back in the world that you left after building your time machine, you’ve gone missing.  Once people notice, police reports are filed and searches are made, and eventually you become a segment of a TV show like Unsolved Mysteries about a man who vanished without a trace.

Here is where it gets complicated.  You decide you want to go home, so you travel back in time again and prevent yourself from preventing yourself from building the time machine.  Assuming that in your original timeline there were no attempts at all by other versions of yourself to stop you, that you are the “prime” reality, the world you are in right now still isn’t home.  While the you in this reality has just built a time machine and sailed off into history to stop himself from building a time machine, you are standing in a world where not only do you (you prime) exist, but there is also an unconscious you (only because we assume that you didn’t kill the other you to stop him from stopping you) sitting on the ground.  There are two anomaly yous (and third you who just vanished into history is about to go create more yous).  The end result of these actions is that there will exist worlds without you and worlds with two yous (unless you do actually kill you to stop you, you bastard), on into infinity until you decide to stop trying to stop yourself.

This form of time travel intrigues me because I like the idea that you can’t change your own past, but you can change the past of another version of you.  Imagine if you were building your time machine so you could prevent the death of a loved one.  When you leave your own time, the world continues on with the loved one still dead and now with you missing, but in a parallel reality you save the loved one, everything is different, except you, who knows the loss parallel you will never know, and he’s knowing non-loss that you can only observe (unless you kill parallel you and take his place).

Other Possibilities

Of course, there are more theories, but most of those require mental gymnastics or forgiveness of giant flaws that make them feel of much lesser quality that the two I’ve illustrated.  Most commonly used is the “reality fixes itself” idea, that the world changes around you when you alter the past, but it only does this by pretending that paradoxes don’t exists.  You stop yourself from building a time machine and your machine vanishes and you are suddenly you again, only now you didn’t build a time machine… but do you remember doing it?  If you don’t, why wouldn’t you just do it again?  Or are we accepting that whatever you did to stop yourself was enough to convince you to never even attempt it?  If you do remember it, are you just going to sit on that knowledge?  When things go wrong in the future, why not just build that time machine and go fix it?

As much as I love the Back To The Future trilogy, if I spend too much time thinking about them, I get irritated.  By the end, if Doc Brown is a commended scientist, respected in his work, then would he have been building a time machine using plutonium he has to swindle from Libyan terrorists?  If Marty’s family is well off, he has the girl and the truck and his band is doing well, would he be hanging around Doc Brown at all?  They even go to the extent of explaining in the second film that since the future has been altered they can’t go forward to fix time, they need to go back to prevent the divergence.  Only before they go back and fix the divergence, wouldn’t there have a been a Marty that went to 1955 from the first film who returned to 1985 AFTER old Biff from the future had changed things but BEFORE having gone to the future himself?  There would have to be, since old Biff gives young Biff the book and alters time BEFORE Marty from the first film leaves 1955.  That said, in the future, after old Biff returns… wait… how did he return to a future that doesn’t happen anymore?  He changed it by going back and giving himself the book.  Old Biff should have gone to the future of alternate 1985, not the future of original 1985.  And how did Marty get to alternate 1985 from the future anyway?  Wasn’t he in the original timeline?  They leave Jennifer on a porch in alternate 1985 because “reality will change around her”, but then why didn’t reality change around them in the future after old Biff dropped the book off to young Biff?  I’m going to stop now.  BTTF is great fun.  I’m going to go back to enjoying it now and not analyzing it.

Most times it’s best just to avoid time travel altogether.  And yet, I am fascinated by the concept and keep trying, unsuccessfully thus far, to craft a time travel tale.  Someday…

A Week of Tweets on 2010-12-19

  • Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! #
  • function Monday() { return Monday(); } Monday(); #
  • I don't want them to cancel The Good Guys, but if it does end, I'm very happy with that finale. #thegoodguys #
  • @carocat Perhaps they really do mean that there is no turkey in the building. in reply to carocat #
  • @massively What's up with your RSS feed? Every day it seems to reset and spit out a full day of duplicate posts… #
  • Getting to work at 6am when it is this cold is cruel. #
  • RockMelt – Your Browser. Re-imagined. Connect for an invitation. #

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A World Where That Can Happen

September 11th, 2001 was a tragic day for a great many people.  Myself, being unemployed at the time, I spent the entire day in front of the TV and talking to friends over the Internet.  For some random reason that morning, I’d turned on the TV and it was on CNN.  I think there had been some special news report or something I’d been watching before bed the night before.  I was actually watching when the first reports of something hitting the World Trade Center came in, and I stayed there all day.  I don’t think I even took a break for food until dinner that night.

As tragic as that day was, however, it was the next day, September 12th, when everything sunk in, when the ripples of the event started to be felt, when the world became a different place than it had been just two days before.  Terrorism, of course, was not new.  People had been dealing with attacks like that, though not in the same scope, for a very long time.  Suicide bombers in cafés and other public places were old hat in some parts of the world.  Even hijackings and blowing up planes was something that had, to some degree, become accepted as a possibility.  The largest ripple coming from the September 11th attack was simply that we now lived in a world where that could happen.  A world where someone can fly a plane into a building, not on accident, not a small plane as a personal act of suicide, but a large passenger flight turned in to a weapon that can bring down a building and kill thousands.  On September 10th, it was unthinkable by most people.  On the 11th, it happened.  On the 12th, it was added to the list of possibilities, or if it had already been there, its rank on the list of probabilities rose.  It went from being some 1-in-a-million things to an event that happened, and now proven effective an event that would be planned again.

One of the tracks at Dragon*Con is called Apocalypse Rising.  It is a very odd track compared to many of the other fandom based tracks like Star Wars and Star Trek and the Whedon Universe because it lives in two worlds.  On one side you have zombies and an array of Sci-Fi movies and books, and people talk about their favorite “end of the world” and they wear Mad Max costumes and pretend to hunt zombies.  On the other side, you have panels with people who are well versed in the practical procedures of surviving disasters talking about the things you can do, the things you should do.  It is in the second half where discussions about the inevitability of larger events happen.  We talk about how the September 11th event was a shock to the United States and most of the world, and about how technology advances, and arms caches of fallen regimes make their way into the market, and how once upon a time people used to discuss about the remote possibility that a nuclear weapon or other massively destructive thing might one day be unleashed on a city in the US or the UK, and how events like sarin gas being released on a Tokyo subway and September 11th and more have turned that remote possibility into an eventuality, about how we’ve stopped talking about “if” something will happen but “when” it will happen.  And it all reminds me of a line from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”

Somber thoughts for a sunny Saturday, I know, but I can’t help it.  Its on my mind and it had to come out somewhere.  On a brighter note, I’m alive, I’m in love, and while I may not have everything that I want, I want everything that I have, and that’s a pretty nice place to be.

It has been eight years since that day, and other lengths of time from other tragic days.  To those that we’ve lost, I wish them rest.  To those they’ve left behind, I wish them restoration.  And hopefully “when” will be a very long way off.

Revisiting Travian

Back in October, I reviewed my experience with the web based game Travian, and now that I am no longer going to be playing it, I would like to say just a bit more.

If you decide to play Travian, bring friends.  If you don’t have friends to bring, make friends, fast.  And if the friends you bring or the friends you make do not play seriously and begin immediately amassing power and strength, dump them and get new friends.

That may seem a little hardcore, but it is pretty much true.  Travian is a PvP game.  Building cities takes more time than conquering cities.  So if you don’t join a big alliance and start conquering other people, other people will start conquering you.

So, to that end, while I said previously that I wouldn’t be playing the game anymore, I won’t… but I would consider it if a big group of people were planning to play it and let me join in with them.

30 Days of Game: Travian

Welcome to October 1st, and to our first installment of 30 Days of Game.  This is where I play a game for roughly a month, and then review it.

First up: Travian.  From their own page…

Travian is a browser game featuring a world with thousands of other real players. One begins the game acting as a chief of a tiny village.

To get a decent idea of what the game is like, I suggest running through the tutorial.  It only takes a minute.

Basically, you start with an empty village surrounded by resources.  You place your town hall and then get to building.  Each resource field (woodcutter, clay pit, iron mine, cropland) produces a set amount of its resource, which you can increase by building up the level of the resource.  In town, on the various plots, you can build a variety of buildings, from armories and stables to warehouses and crannies (for hiding resources from attackers).  As you construct buildings and upgrade them, you unlock new troop types and other abilities.  Eventually, you can raid and even conquer other players.  Yes, its a PvP game.

Its like a real time strategy game, only slower.  Every building, upgrade or troop training takes resources and time.  And while each building’s ability is independent (can be researching new armor, new weapons, training foot soldiers, horsemen and building siege devices all at the same time), setting your people to work on building or resource upgrades are only allowed one at a time.  So you need to plan, which buildings do you need first?  Do you go offense and raid other players for supplies or do you go defense and protect against other raiders?

You can join alliances with other players which allows you access to a private message board on the site for your alliance.  And each server is generally allowed to run for 300 days (100 for speed games) before it resets and starts over.  So, yes, this is not your traditional neverending MMO grind.  The game has a finish, and leaderboards, and enough servers that you can pretty much always guarantee that one is going to restart soon or has recently restarted, so there is less worry about jumping in and being so far behind the curve that you can’t possibly win.

The City of M`antra G`ald - My City
The City of M`antra G`ald - My City

Now, technically, I’ve been playing for more than 30 days, because I couldn’t think of a new game to start and I was already playing this one.  However, I’m enjoying what I am now referring to as a Lazy Time Strategy game.  Early on, when build times on things were very short and didn’t cost too much, I visited many times a day to keep my peasants working.  Lately, I visit two, maybe three, times a day, trading goods with other players and kicking off my next project or sending out armies to do my bidding.  Through my alliance I have heard other players talk about getting bombarded and overrun, but I haven’t had any trouble with that just yet, and I might not before the server resets.  I am just now getting to the point where I might be able to found a second city, which took longer than it would have if I’d gone straight for it.

Travian isn’t a deeply enthralling game, but I definitely think it is one I am going to continue playing because it is enjoyable and doesn’t require a dedicated hardcore player to enjoy it, although I am sure more hardcore players could find something in this game – be it min/maxing the build orders, or just crushing your neighbors.

Abandoning Munford

It has only been a week since I decided to make a concerted effort to hold the Munford Cinema in Urban Dead, and I am ditching that location. The rotter revive center just proved to attract far too much attention. So, I’m now on the prowl for another theater to take.

At the moment I’m hiding in the Hildebrand Mall gathering supplies and checking my city maps… and recovering from being dead three times in a week.

This experience, to me, really illustrates the one major design flaw in Urban Dead. In most games, death might have a penalty, but you always get back on your feet. In this game, dying actually makes you the enemy. If you and ten of your friends are hiding out in a building and a couple of zombies break in and kill some of your friends, your friends are now zombies. Reviving them costs 10 action points each. The net sum of the game is that you will lose. No questions, at some point you’ll die and have to either play zed or just wandering around looking for places where people might revive you. I don’t want to play a zombie, its boring. I want to be a survivor running from building to building looking for supplies and hiding for my life.

Anyway, I’m still playing and still going to be trying to build up the MCP, but its absolutely going to need to be somewhere safer.

Let`s Go To The Movies

I’ve undertaken a project in Urban Dead: the revitalization of the cinemas in the city of Malton. To that end, I am forming a group in game called the Malton Cinema Patrol (MCP).

The stated goals of the MCP are:

  1. To secure the Cinemas of Malton city and at least one neighbor building. The Cinema will be kept at a barricade level extremely heavily (EHB), and the neighbor building will be kept at a level of very strongly (VSB++) so that survivors seeking shelter can enter the neighbor building and utilize the Free Running skill to get into the Cinema.
  2. The Cinema should contain a generator, it should be fueled and running, and the wall should be spray painted with the movie currently playing (in the format “Now Playing: [name of movie]”). If possible, a radio transmitter should be set up and set to a frequency of 27.72 MHz (listed as available, if this group takes off, I’ll claim it).

Members should carry a radio tuned to the same frequency, a toolbox, spray paint, first aid kits, and weapons.Anyway… that’s all for now… Oh, I should say that the MCP is officially beginning with the Munford Cinema in Galbraith Hills. Though, with a rotter revive center just a few blocks away, we may be forced to move elsewhere.


Though I loathe the idea of joining an infinite number of community building websites, I am on MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn. And now I’ve gone and joined GuildCafe.

In much the same way I participate in, I’m interested in GuildCafe for the possibility of gathering statistics that might mean something. And maybe it’ll make finding my next group of people to play online games with a tad easier. Who knows.


I went out and saw a sneak preview of Accepted the other night. The story: A kid gets rejected from 8 colleges and rather than disappoint his parents more, he invents a college, makes a webpage and fakes an acceptance letter… then his dad wants to drop him off, so he uses the tuition money to lease a building to fake a school… then dad wants to meet the dean, so they hire a friends crazy uncle to play the part… then it turns out the webpage works, and a couple hundred kids also got accepted… you can see where this is going, right?

The movie was completely predictable in just about every way, but that didn’t stop it from being hilarious. Justin Long already has a decent career going, and I think he’s got a bright future ahead in comedies. All the rest of the cast is good too, and they work well together. And the college they invent is a place I would have rather spent my learning years because I might have actually learned something useful.

I recommend the movie, so when it opens, go see it.