Final Entry of 2012

Well, the world didn’t end (which is good, otherwise my end of world prediction would have been totally wrong).

I haven’t posted much this year. In fact, i think personal blog entries are in decline across the board. While there are some people who still write entries almost daily or at least weekly, i’m definitely not one of them. Social networking sites (ala Facebook) have pretty much supplanted the day-to-day electronic “hey, check this out”, and “ooh, i’m feeling…”, or “guess what just happened” posts.

But even so, i’ll continue to keep my blog around and i will even post to it occasionally, but mostly it’ll be for longer items or summaries of lots of littler items. If you want the day to day minutia check out my Facebook, Google+, or Twitter pages.

Here’s a great article i wanted to share. It just goes to show that we’re living in the future. It lists 12 things that happened in 2012 that could have come out of some sci-fi movies from 15-20 years ago. And these are all things that really happened this year!

I grouped these all together because they have a common theme: the merging of technology and biology in some way.

  • A Cyborg Competes Against Able-Bodied Athletes at the Olympics
  • Researchers Create a Robot With Legs That Can Run Faster Than any Human
  • Scientists Enhance the Intelligence of Primates with a Chip
  • The World’s First Cybernetic Hate Crime Occurs at a McDonalds in France
  • A Paralyzed Woman Controls a Robotic Arm Using Only Her Mind
  • Scientists Create an Artificial Retina
  • Researchers Create the First Complete Computer Model of a Living Organism
  • A Child Attends School By Sending a Robot in His Place

Forget about who’s on drugs, now it’s all about what does it mean to be human – how many implants are too many before you can’t compete? Will everyone need implants to stay competitive in high-end sporting competitions? Will that bleed over into everyday life? Job discrimination ala Gattaca if you aren’t genetically enhanced?

If we can make outselves smarter, why not chimps. Or dogs, or cats, or mice? Will they eventually be at the point where they can compete for jobs, demand rights, own property, or even publish scientific papers? And if we can do it on a chip, why bother with bioligy anyway – let’s just do it all in silicone. It’s more durable and takes less resources. Maybe we start with a chip, combine with cybernetic implants, and eventually move on to full-on brain uploads in the cloud!

When will it get to the point where new laws need to be enacted? People always fear those who are different. But maybe eventually “unenhanced humans” will be the oddballs and they’ll be the ones discrimiated against.

Doctors Communicate With a Man in a Coma
Maybe some implants will help and eventually he can control a cyborg body with just his mind.

NASA Starts to Work on a Faster-Than-Light Warp Drive
This is a serious attempt with actual NASA engineers using real (and according to them, plausible) math to achieve faster-than-life travel.

The Earth Experiences its First True Superstorm
Well, maybe not the first, but certainly the first in modern history.

The First Successful Commercial Cargo Delivery to Space Goes Off Without a Hitch
Who needs big government anymore? Maybe we will finally get to take that 2 week vacation to the moon someday (soon-ish).

The First Large-Scale Geoengineering Project is Detected Off Canada’s West Coast
This sounds like a James Bond super-villian storyline.

Self-Driving Cars Become Legal in Several States
It’ll be a while before people are ready to let the car drive itself, but every year the cars get smarter and have more features. Back-up collision detection, anti-lock breaks, off-road steering correction, self-park mode, enhanced HUD’s with relevant traffic/weather information. Slowly but inexorably they’re all moving towards self-driving with humans as simply passengers along for the ride.

Fish vs Robots

Do Star Wars, Star Trek, Buck Rogers, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, V, and even War of the Worlds have it all wrong? If we or other aliens were to travel into space and go to other worlds, would we really be living inside of spaceships that attempt to mimic our native environment?

The following article (provocatively titled ‘Biological Intelligence is Only a Transitory Phenomenon’) suggests that the answer is no. And not just no, but “hell no, that’s just stupid, what are you thinking?” Here are some quotes from the article to give you a flavor of what they’re talking about:

any aliens exploring the universe will be AI-empowered machines. Not only are machines better able to endure extended exposure to the conditions of space, but they have the potential to develop intelligence far beyond the capacity of the human brain.

I think it very likely – in fact inevitable – that biological intelligence is only a transitory phenomenon, a fleeting phase in the evolution of the universe … If we ever encounter extraterrestrial intelligence, I believe it is overwhelmingly likely to be post-biological in nature.

The two scientists compared that approach [i.e. spacesuits and space ships] to “a fish taking a small quantity of water along with him to live on land.” They felt that humans should be willing to partially adapt to the environment to which they would be traveling. … “Altering man’s bodily functions to meet the requirements of extraterrestrial environments would be more logical than providing an earthly environment for him in space,

So, are they right? Is it a silly idea to think that we want to go somewhere (let’s say Mars for arguments sake) that we aren’t adapted to, without changing outselves? Suppose we could alter our physical selves with gene thereapy, cyborg implents, etc.. so that we could live on Mars without a big bubble and/or terraforming the planet. Is that a better way to go? Or should we build the portable fish tank to take with us as we explore the cosmos? I can see arguments on both sides.

Pro fish tank: We aren’t ourselves anymore if we change. How can we be human and want what humans want if we’re part robot, part martian?

Pro fish tank: We can share all the cool things we have here with those elsewhere (be they aliens or other human visitors). You won’t be able to experience that if you haven’t brought along the right environment.

Pro post-biological: When in Rome …

Pro post-biological: If you change the place you’re going to, you might destroy whatever it was you were going there for in the first place. Disrupt the habitat, kill off the locals (intentional/unintentional), etc..

Pro post-biological: If you adapt to live in the environment you inhabit, you can experience it as it is, not via some proxy.

Pro post-biological: You don’t have to worry about the bubble cracking and all your air leaking away. You also don’t have to worrya bout too much or too little gravity or light, etc..

Pro fish tank: Space ships are cool. So are shelds, lasers, photon torpedos and cloaking devices.

Pro post-biological: Space suits are not comfortable or easy to wear, and they simply will never ever be fashionable.

 

Full article can be found here.

Space wizards

I read an excellent article yesterday talking about “space wizards” in general, and Spock in particular.  It got me to thinking about something that’s always seemed obvious to me: there is a fine line between science fiction and fantasy.  They’re really two sides of the same coin.  Magic and technology – they’re not so different, really.  You can make amazing things happen either way.  One is usually portrayed with shiny buttons, gadgets, and cool looking space toys.  The other is portrayed with wands, natural forces and willpower.  But the net effect is the same: things that are out of the norm occur.
The typical hero’s quest story always contains a wise wizard figure.  Whether that’s Gandalf, Merlin, Dr. Who, Spock, Yoda, or Dumbledore, they’re always there.  Whether they weild the force and a light saber, or wave their magic wand.  Whether they cite magical incantations or blurt out technobabble, they serve the same purpose.  To guide the young hero towards the big bad to save the world.
I imagine a universe where there are civilations that take both evolutionary paths.  Some go down the road of science and technology.  Some take up magic.  You can travel around the universe in a shiny metal spaceship, a small blue box or just teleport yourself wherever your thoughts can take you.  But just because some planets have wizards doesn’t mean that others can’t have spaceships.
Just imagine writing a series of novels where the two co-exist, and maybe even interact for the first time.  What happens when the enterprise bumps into Sauron?  Or when crashes on a planet and gets kidnapped by elves?  There are some very interesting cross-overs that could occur.
Some wizards already blur the line.
Yoda.  He lives in a very science-fiction universe.  He uses a light saber and flies around in spaceships.  Yet he also weilds a magical force that let’s him move things around with his mind, shoot energy fields and lightning bolts from his fingertips, see visions of the future, and commune with the dead.
Q.  He (and the entire Q race) live in a very science-fiction universe.  But they seem to have magical powers.  They snap their fingers and can travel across the universe.  They can manipulate time, create alternate realities, wisk things into and out of existince on a whim, and generally alter the fabric of reality all with their mind.
So what is Q, what is Yoda?  A wizard?  A space wizard?  Spock and Dr. Who are more traditional space wizards.  They use their extreme intelligence and combine it with technology to do amazing things.  Gandalf and Dumbledore are more traditional fantasy wizards who cast spells and use their arcane knowledge to do amazing things.
But in the end, they all serve the same purpose and they’re all wonderful and amazing.
Oh, and here’s the article that kicked off my random thoughts for today.

Comet Hartley 2

Source: http://www.space.com/spacewatch/comet-hartley-2-passing-earth-101001.html

On Oct. 20, Comet Hartley 2 will pass just over 11 million miles (18 million km) from Earth. During October it should be easily visible in small telescopes, binoculars and — from sites with dark enough skies — even with the naked eye.

As October begins, Comet Hartley 2 will be in the constellation of Cassiopeia, which at dusk will be positioned halfway up in the northeast sky; through Oct. 5 it will be passing below and to the right of the famous “W”-shaped formation composed of five bright stars.

The comet then moves into the constellation of Perseus on Oct. 6 and before dawn on the morning of Oct. 8, it will be situated only 0.7 degrees below and to the right of the famous Double Star Cluster. The cluster supposedly marks the sword handle of Perseus and is often touted as one of the most impressive star clusters in the entire sky.

On the morning of Oct. 10, the comet will appear to almost touch the 4th-magnitude star, Eta Persei. On Oct. 17, it will enter the boundaries of the constellation Auriga, and on the morning of Oct. 18, Hartley 2 will be about 1.2 degrees above and to the right of the star Epsilon Aurigae and 3 degrees below and to the right of the brilliant zero-magnitude star Capella.

Between Oct. 15 and 20, within about a half hour of 4:00 a.m. local time, the comet will be passing almost directly overhead.

Even after Hartley 2 makes its closest approach to Earth, it will become part of another close approach of a different kind. On Sept. 5, more than five years after its July 4, 2005, rendezvous with Comet Tempel 1, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft will begin beaming down the first of more than 64,000 images it’s expected to take of Comet Hartley 2.

The spacecraft will continue imaging Hartley 2 during and after its closest approach on Nov. 4, when it will pass to within 430 miles (692 km) of the comet’s nucleus, providing an extended look at the comet.

We all live in … a brane?

Forget everything you thought you knew about cosmology.  Big bang?  Dark matter?  Gravitational force being so weak compared to the other forces?  Fooey i say.  There’s a competing theory that brings all this into question and said you don’t need any of that to explain the universe.  All you need is brane theory.  This isn’t necessarily new.  I’ve been reading bits and pieces about it for years.  But this particular article doesn’t go deep so your eyes don’t glaze over.  Plus it has a cool graphic :)

Proponents of branes propose that we are trapped in a thin membrane of space-time embedded in a much larger cosmos from which neither light nor energy –except gravity– can escape or enter and that  that “dark matter” is just the rest of the universe that we can’t see because light can’t escape from or enter into our membrane from the great bulk of the universe. And our membrane may be only one of many, all of which may warp, connect, and collide with one another in as many as 10 dimensions -a new frontier physicists call the “brane world.” Stephen Hawking, among others, envisions brane worlds perculating up out of the void, giving rise to whole new universes.

Only gravity can’t exist soley in a specific brane, but wanders where it will, leaking off our brane into what physicists call “the bulk” — the rest of space-time. Brane theory offer an fascinating and plausable explanation for why gravity is such a weakling: Maybe it’s not any weaker than the other forces, but just concentrated somewhere else in the bulk, or on another brane, providing the key to understanding the dark matter that makes up 90 % of our universe.

If our brane is but a small slice of a much larger cosmos, however, the “dark matter” might be nothing but ordinary matter trapped on another brane. Dark matter is no longer some mysterious unknown, but the force at the heart of the brane-brane interaction. With the brane model the universe goes through an eternal cosmic cycle over a vast timescale of attraction, bounce with a spread out bang, springing apart, and expansion until attraction (gravity) takes over again.Such a shadow world, Hawking speculated, might contain “shadow human beings wondering about the mass that seems to be missing from their world.”

There was no big bang

Several of the world’s leading cosmologists believe that we are but one of many universes. As yet, as we know, there is no evidence of there being other universes out there. Some versions of this theory suggest that there is at least one other universe very close to our own, separated perhaps bu a membrane as little as a millimeter away, which, if true, could be detectable by some energy or forces such as gravity leaking through.In fact, as predicted by brane theorists, this “leakage” could be responsible for the production of dark energy from a parallel universe, its influence felt in our own through its gravitational pull.

CERN may detect the existance of another universe

Orvut’s theory could explain the effect of dark matter where areas of the universe are heavier than they should be given everything that’s present. With their theory, the nagging problems surrounding the Big Bang (beginning from what, and caused how?) are replaced by an eternal cosmic cycle where dark energy is no longer a mysterious unknown quantity, but rather the very extra gravitational force that drives the universe to universe (brane-brane) interaction.

What Came Before the Big Bang?

Tech Support

I haven’t done a lot of blogging lately. … Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been doing plenty of micro-blogging (facebook and twitter). In the meantime, all sorts of interesting things have happened.

  • The first rocky exoplanet has been discovered. It circles closer to its parent star than Mercury (meaning it’s more like a hellish prison planet than a gardeon of eden), but has roughly the same density as the Earth. Good signs for better discoveries in the future.
  • Google has been doing a number of “unexplained phenomenon doodles“, leading many people to believe that we’ve made first contact with Aliens (because, hey – of course Google would know first, right?)
  • Apple just released something blah blah ipod whoever cares…
  • I just released a new version of Shisensho and actually got a really nice comment from someone! score.
  • My son, Alex just turned 13! Holy crap, i’m the parent of a teenager now. For his birthday, we built him a greenhouse.

But the best thing was this xkcd comic i ran across a while back:

Why the moon landings were NOT a hoax

This is copied from the following URL (http://www.askmen.com/top_10/entertainment/top-5-proofs-that-the-moon-landing-happened.html) and provides compelling arguments that the moon landings did in fact happen. Combine this with the Mythbusters episodes where they debunk the moon hoax theories, and what more could you need? :)

Intro

The ultra-competitive space race culminated in a contest between the Soviet Union and the United States, to see which nation would be first to put a man on the moon. Leaving aside the obvious political leverage of the American success, it was a seminal moment in human history. Men had long dreamed of reaching the moon, and it represented the culmination of years of research, technological innovation and the spirit of adventure.

While at the time it captured the hearts and minds of the millions of people who watched the live footage, it was, in a way, inevitable that people would seek to diminish the glory of the achievement, perhaps to discredit a government they were disillusioned by. Is it a coincidence that the first book claiming the moon landings were faked was released in 1974, the same year that the Watergate scandal did untold damage to the integrity of the Presidential office?

It is far easier to present the facts as they were and to offer a few of the major arguments that prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the moon landings were genuine, that Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin did, in fact, make the journey of a lifetime and set foot upon the moon.

The Soviet Union Did Not Dispute It

At the height of the Cold War, winning the space race represented a massive feather in the ideological cap of the anti-Communists. As such, if there had been any way to discredit the United States, you can be sure the Soviet Union would have found it. The political damage they could have wrought would have been enormous had they been able to discredit the moon landings. Given that the Soviets were still suffering from the embarrassing climb-down of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, any opportunity that would have allowed them to embarrass the United States would surely have been grasped with both hands. The fact that in the 40 years since that momentous occasion in human history, not one person from the Soviet camp has produced evidence to dispute the veracity of the moon landings, is as telling as any other evidence you care to name. It has been suggested that the Soviets were in on the hoax; this is too ludicrous for words, especially in an era when tensions between the two countries were so high. It is suggesting complicity in something which would be immensely damaging to their own regime, and that’s simply absurd. Forget the arguments; the deafening silence from the Soviet camp is as incontrovertible as any other evidence.

The Number of Photographs

It seems obvious to the point of absurdity, but the sheer number of photographs — none of which show anything terrestrial — is pretty compelling evidence. Much has been said about light sources, errant shadows and so forth, but this is all based on how light behaves in Earth’s atmosphere. The moon has no atmosphere to speak of, and so refraction and reflection will be slightly different. The Lunar Module was covered in reflective paneling, and so would have had a major effect on the way light was reflected onto the surface. Undulations in the moon’s surface would also have an effect on shading. The lack of stars has also been cited as proof, but the cameras were set to daylight exposure and would not have picked up the stars anyway. We should also consider the fact that the astronauts — who were extremely well trained photographers by the time of the mission — were there to photograph the moon, not the view of the stars from the moon’s surface. The sheer number of photographs which were taken, and the absence of anything more than weak circumstantial evidence, is a strong argument.

Rock Samples Are Universally Acknowledged As Being Non-Terrestrial

The Apollo Program, between missions 11 and 17, collected some 382 kilograms of moon rocks, which were brought back to Earth for analysis. Every scientist who has studied these rocks has accepted that they are of non-terrestrial origin and there is no peer-reviewed article that contradicts the claim they are from the moon. Moon rocks have a very specific geological composition which is distinct from both rocks on Earth and other celestial bodies, such as meteorites. Accusations that these samples could have come from lunar meteorites are specious; the first lunar meteorite was not discovered until the 1980s, and up until now, only 30 kilograms of lunar meteorite rock have been discovered — less than ten percent of the mass that was brought back from the moon. Added to this is the fact that lunar rocks are not subjected to the same geological processes as those on Earth, and the rocks brought home were found to be in excess of 600,000,000 years older than the oldest known rocks on Earth. If you need any more evidence, the composition of those lunar rocks is identical to Soviet samples. Had there actually been a difference, you can be sure the Soviets would have pointed it out.

No One on the Inside Disputed It

It is interesting to note that out of all the people who have claimed the moon landings were faked, not one of them had any direct involvement with the program. As Dr. James Longuski, a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautic Engineering has pointed out, the sheer scale of the project would have made it impossible to keep everybody quiet. Over the course of the Apollo project, he estimates that over 400,000 people, or the equivalent of a small city, were involved in working on the project. The odds of every single one of them choosing to keep silent for over forty years, and not producing any evidence, or a memoir, or an overheard conversation suggesting the landings were faked, is another hugely compelling argument. There is so much money to be made by the person who definitively proves the Moon landings were faked, that someone would surely by now have tried to capitalize on that. The fact that no one has suggests that there is no hoax.

It Happened Again…And Again…And Again

As Charlie Duke, an astronaut on the Apollo 16 mission said, “We have been to the Moon nine times. Why would we fake it nine times, if we faked it?” It is a pertinent question and it does seem that if you are going to tell a lie, it is far easier to do it once and then stop, than to keep exaggerating the lie over the course of the next few years. Sooner or later somebody would have made a mistake to give the game away. The fact that nobody did, again, illustrates the fact that indeed, these astronauts did make it to the moon. With six separate Apollo missions actually reaching the Moon, and each time making multiple moonwalks, it seems a ridiculously elaborate hoax, at a cost of millions, if not billions of dollars to perpetrate. While the moon landings were incredibly difficult and dangerous, the evidence we have presented here offers a convincing argument of the truth behind the matter. While ridiculously elaborate and misguided conspiracy theories add a frisson of mystery, they should never be allowed to diminish what was an incredible achievement.

Lord British and the Immortality Drive

I was listening to a podcast today which was an interview of a true “geek hero” of mine: Richard Garriott. I suppose a little history is in order. Richard, aka “Lord British” is well known for creating the Ultima series of games. These were amazing for their time, and even today they are worth replaying now and again. Sure the graphics have aged, but the storylines never get old. I have very fond memories of the hours and months that i used to put into these games as i was growing up. I’m not a big game player, but i loved every minute of Ultima. And the few games that i do tend to play nowadays always seem to be similar (in concept) to Ultima in one way or another.

Moving on. Richard made his millions and did very well for himself. Since then he’s used his money to do some amazing things, such as go on African safari’s, ride to the bottom of the ocean on research subs (more than once), take a few trips to Antarctica. Little things like that. And recently he followed his father’s footsteps and went into space. The podcast tells the amazing story about how he was told as a young boy that he’d never be able to be an astronaut due to his poor eyesight. He determined he’d make it anyway. And now he has. Bravo! He’s someone who made the most of his opportunities, and did it in a way that didn’t suck. :)

Personally i’m a big believer … if you are lucky enough by whatever means to find your way into an extraordinarily unique and valuable location or circumstance … wherever it might be … i find that the experience is far richer, and far more fulfilling, and far more personally interesting when you can go beyond that [tourism] and find ways to bring back real value from that experience. And i don’t mean specifically commercial value as in making money, i mean value as in scientific value, or find knowledge that you can bring back and share with people that adds meaning to the experience you’ve just had.

He also mentioned that after a zero-g flight with Stephen Hawking, that the two have been working on ways to extend mankind’s reach beyond earth in case of the untimely demise of the human species (you know – asteroid impact, supernova explosion, alien invasion, zombie apocalypse, whatever the case might be). He put together a program called Operation Immortality, which is “a time capsule with the digitized DNA of select video game players and space aficionados

Future cosmologists won’t have a clue. But do we?

I was listening to a podcast today with a panel of cosmologists. It was actually more entertaining than you might think. Or maybe i’m just a geek. Anyway… :)

One subject that came up was the idea that given the fact that everything in the universe is moving away from everything else at an increasing rate, eventually in the “far future” (we’re talking trillions of years here), a future cosmologist would see nothing in the night sky but the local stars of the galaxy. Everything else will have receded into invisibility beyond all possibility of detection. They’ll know nothing of the true nature of the universe. As far as they’ll ever be able to determine, they are completely alone in a dark cosmos.

The interesting point made was “how do we know we’re not in a similar situation”? There could be any number of interesting things about the universe that we can’t observe. Things that if we did know about would give us a completely different view of things.