Monday: Hili dialogue

by Grania

Welcome to a new week. Alas, Jerry and the co-authors of the original Hili Dialogues, Andrzej and Malgorzata are all ill. I hope you will join me in sending all three good wishes and a speedy recovery.

Today is the day that Nixon announced a peace accord had been reached in Vietnam (1973), and in 2003 NASA detected the last signal from Pioneer 10 as it sailed out of the Solar System. That was one of the probes that holds the gold plaques that were recommended by Carl Sagan containing a “Message from Earth”, cramming as much information as possible about our species and its achievements without using words. Can you identify what all this stuff means?


It is also the anniversary of the death (1976) of Paul Robeson, bass singer and activist. Instead of playing one of his more well-known performances from operas, I’ll show this video of Robeson singing a song that shows both sides of the main interests in his life: music and activism. This is “Warszawianka“, sung in both Polish and English. If you are interested in the Polish and English lyrics and a little of their history, you can read them here.

And finally we have the words of the day from Dobrzyń.

A: What are you looking there for?
Hili: Digital truth.


In Polish:

Ja: Czego tam szukasz?
Hili: Cyfrowej prawdy.

Note from JAC: I am slowly clawing my way back to the land of the living, and will rest a bit this morning before essaying a walk to work. There I’ll see if I can do anything substantive, as I have a piece of writing on deadline as well as some posts planned for here. Meanwhile, Grania (peace be upon her) called my attention to some get-well kitteh cards, which include this gem:


And I’ll add that today is the birthday of Ed Roberts (1939-1965), a disability-rights activist and the first student with severe disabilities to attend the University of California. (He was paralyzed from the neck down by polio.) Google has honored him today with a Doodle:


Finally, here’s an old “60 Minutes” piece on Roberts:


  1. Frank Bath
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    Get well and stay well folks.

  2. GBJames
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Hope y’all get better soon!

  3. John Hamill
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    The best explanation of the pulsar map is here …

    I liked it so much I had it tattooed onto my arm. Now, if I ever get abducted by aliens, at least they’ll know where to drop me off when they are finished with all the probing. 🙂

    • darrelle
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:53 am | Permalink

      A return to sender tattoo. (If found please deposit in any wormhole to the following address.)

      • John Hamill
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Precisely!! 🙂

      • eric
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        “Slaves and strip mining available here.”


        • darrelle
          Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          Oh, Noes!

  4. Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    What does the plaque mean? Clearly it means “We are always naked and giving directions inviting nearby aliens to a party”.
    It’s a wonder that Earth hasn’t become the dogging centre of the universe. Maybe this explains the Fermi paradox? The aliens are doing the cosmic equivalent of keeping the curtains drawn and pretending to be out?

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink

      That is in large part the basis for the Berserker Wars sci fi series. If we broadcast into space, giant sentient machines from a long-forgotten interstellar war will come and glass our planet. Civilizations that know this keep quiet.

      • Torbjörn Larsson
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        That explains Alastair Reynolds’ sci fi I am currently reading.

        Reynolds is usually producing hard sci fi and don’t dip into the far fetched corners of easy interstellar travel with all its loose assumption of economy and so larger civilizations – so I prefer reading him when I can. (Trigger warning: Reynolds did have an annoying Clarke magic vs ignorance agnostic exposition in one of his books, so I nearly threw him out.) But his “Poseidon’s Wake” has that type of machines, just rather erratic interfering for reasons of their own since there is no benefit (and lots of harm) in genocides. And now I know what the context is.

        • eric
          Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink

          Gregory Benford’s big series (Across the Sea of Stars etc.) also had a similar theme, where the galaxy-spanning civilization is machine and it doesn’t particularly like organics. Its pretty common.

      • darrelle
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        With one exception, Berserker Man, I didn’t care much for any of Saberhagen’s Berserker novels. But, his Berserker short stories are, I think, some of the finest examples of the genre. I’ve recommended them to many people over the years.

    • Jamie
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:27 am | Permalink

      Clearly the image of active male and passive female is meant to convey “we are patriarchal”… : )

      • mudskipper
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        Yeah, I noticed that way back in the 70’s. But at the time, I thought it was a win that they even thought to include a woman.

      • Alpha Neil
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

        Maybe he is raising his hand to slap her. It’s a warning to aliens to know their place.

        • Doug
          Posted January 23, 2017 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

          Back in the ’70s, some people thought he was giving the Nazi salute.

          I always thought that it was odd that the man is anatomically correct and the woman is not. Penises are okay, vulvas aren’t. Was this NASA’s prejudice, or did they think ETs would feel this way? “We don’t want to offend the aliens!”

          Today, people would complain that there are only two genders depicted. How binary!

  5. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I don’t say this often : Bravo Google Doodle.

  6. DrBrydon
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Get well soon, Jerry, Andrzej and Malgorzata! I have to say, though, that that cat card is completely unbelievable. Cats wearing shoes!? 😉

  7. allison
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    On the Pioneer 10 plaque: Along the bottom is a crude diagram of the our solar system, showing the space probe’s origin from the third planet. The point on the left with a bunch of radial spikes is a map of Earth’s location relative to several pulsars, whose rotation period is somehow encoded by the little nodules along each spike (this would theoretically allow an advanced extraterrestrial civilization to locate Earth, since the pulsar rotation period is remarkably stable over long periods of time). The human figures at right stand in front of a simple representation of the spacecraft itself. I don’t remember what the thing at upper left is, but I believe it has something to do with the atom.

    In addition to the plaque depicted above, the spacecraft also carried a disc containing a hundred or so digital images of Earth, though no machinery to play it (the aliens will have to figure out how to do that on their own).

    This all from memory of Sagan’s book “Murmurs of Earth”, whose subject was the disc and plaque.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 8:02 am | Permalink

      I think the two round things to the upper left depicts a hydrogen molecule, which is the most abundant molecule around.

    • eric
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:14 am | Permalink

      The human figures at right stand in front of a simple representation of the spacecraft itself

      Ah thanks, I couldn’t remember what the geometrical shapes behind the figures meant. I knew it was a sizing chart, but I had forgotten it was a comparison to the on-board dish.

      IIRC, the hydrogen atom is there because SETI listens for signals at the ‘hydrogen line’ frequency. Its telling the aliens how to broadcast to us.

  8. darrelle
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    Jerry, Andrzej and Malgorzata, sorry to hear that you are all under the weather. I hope you are feeling better quickly. Is Hili picking up the slack and taking care of you?

  9. Alpha Neil
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    The left figure on the map is saying “gender is a social construct”. The starburst to the left of the figures represents the awakening of the alien as it realizes it’s a misogynist. The circles below are directions to the nearest safe space.

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink


    • eric
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      The pulsar map is outlining our ‘safe space’. And the inclusion of Pluto is to communicate not to be so cis-normal about planet definition.

  10. Greg Z.
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Repeated renditions of “Soft Kitty” can be therapeutic.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      And we learned in episode 1 of season 10 that Penny’s father has a shirt depicting the family cat!

  11. Richard Jones
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Paul Robeson. What a voice! What a man!

    • Kevin
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      He was fantastic. I love his voice.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Get well PCC(E), Andrzej and Malgorzata

      Here is Paul Robeson singing “Zog Nit Kein Mol,” “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Song”

    • Nelson
      Posted January 24, 2017 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      A true inspiration, especially in times like these. Along with Paine and others, the recognition of how the land of the free can whitewash from history those whose breathed life into freedom and equality.

  12. dabertini
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Welcome back, Grania!! Get-well soon PCC(e), Andrzej and Malgorzata!!

  13. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Get well soon!

    I’ll take a swipe at the Pioneer/Viking plaques before I peek into its documentation.

    – On the upper left I see a “universal” hydrogen molecule. The symbols should indicate one of its transitions. From that you get a frequency, so a time scale, and a wavelength, so a length scale.

    – Below the molecule is our solar system location in relation to pulsars, so here the time scale is used to identify pulsars. (In binary, I think.)

    – To the right, in front of a sketch of one of the probes, is a differentiated pair of its makers. And here the length scale is used. I think there was some discussion about any putative, unrelated, future plaque finder and if they would grok sexual differentiation or think of two species.

    – At the bottom is a more precise map showing where the probe originated. Now we know that nearby systems could feasibly pinpoint our system by identifying some of our planets, even after 100s of 1000s of years of Milky Way rotation and mixing. But at the time I think it was more of a proud and/or pedantic context.

    • George
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

      The plaque has Pluto as a planet, We need to bring it back and correct it.

      • busterggi
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Maybe we can lauch a bottle of White-Out?

      • busterggi
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

        Maybe we can lauch a bottle of White-Out?

  14. busterggi
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    There is a simple explaination about the nude figures on the plaque – it was the ’70’s and NASA was embarassed by bell-bottoms & paisley.

    • allison
      Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      The plaque brought about some controversy in the 1970s because of the nude figures. Some conservatives complained that we were “sending smut to the stars” while some feminists complained about the female figure not raising her hand in greeting like the male, as though she were either subordinate or surly.

      • busterggi
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        Well if she was subordinate she had reason to be surly.

      • eric
        Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        “Raising your hand in greeting” strikes me as incredibly culture dependent. An alien might just as easily read this as “the bigger one will try and grab us, the smaller one will not. This is a warning message not to communicate with or get too close to the ones with the stuff between their legs.”

        Of course, that’s mostly right, too.

  15. George
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Hope PCC(e) just has a cold and not norovirus. It has been going around the Chicago area. A high school closed after 800 (of 2,500) students came down with it.

    I had it over New Years. It knocked me out for three days. I stayed away from my girlfriend for an additional two days but she still got it three days after that. Do not think it was from me – she is a pharmacist and deals with the public.

  16. George
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    There are two completely different versions of Warszawianka. The version which Robeson is singing (written circa 1879) has many differing version with different lyrics. Wikipedia has an article about this socialist revolutionary song, which it calls LinkText Whirlwinds of Danger. This song is not very popular in Poland since it was co-opted by the USSR.

    The first version is from 1831, one of the songs of November Uprising of 1830-1831. Very popular with the Polish right. It starts “Today is a day of blood and glory” and goes from there.

  17. Mark R.
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Get well soon all! People all around me have gotten sick- all respiratory related. I’ve been ok so far this season…just have to make it a couple more months.

  18. Claudia Baker
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Get well soon PCC, Malgorzata & Andrzej. Sorry to hear that all 3 of you are feeling ill!

  19. Posted January 23, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Get well soon, everyone!

  20. Heather Hastie
    Posted January 23, 2017 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    I hope you’re all feeling better soon Malgorzata, Andrzej, and Jerry. All the best.

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