Archive for the 'Science' Category
The astronomer Patrick Moore died on the 9th December. Like many people my age, as a kid, I often argued with my parents about why I should be allowed stay up late to watch The Sky At Night. Pre satellite TV and pre Internet it was one of my few tenuous links to the world of astronomy and I would relish the grainy and blurred photos while Mr. Moore explained their import. His style was to the point. He studied the stars but he was not starry eyed and doubted that we would come across alien life any time soon. His appeal lay in his intelligence and enthusiasm. He was passionate about astronomy but he didn’t patronise his audience. He assumed that we were as intelligent and well informed as himself and we were forced to pay attention to keep up. They don’t make TV like that anymore.
On Friday night I went to a talk by Will Self at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College arranged by the excellent City Books on Western Road. I had taken the day off work as I had man flu. I still felt feverish while listening to Mr. Self discuss his new novel Umbrella. He read a passage and it seemed quite a dense stream of consciousness type of work written, as he said, in the continuous present. He talked before and after and took questions. He was good value. Alternately, irreverent, serious and amusing.
My mind has been slightly addled the last few days and I’m not sure where some ideas came from but I think it was he who described technology as a parasite on humanity. This tied in with the ideas of a friend who suggested that we are now so reliant on technology that we are becoming cyborgs without a physical interface.
Today, I read in The Economist that Alper Bozkurt and Tahmid Latif of North Carolina University are experimenting with cyborg parasites which can be used to help in search and rescue operations. A cockroach is fitted out with a little circuit board allowing remote control guidance. The circuit board also carries a microphone and camera.
Obviously this could be very useful in search and rescue…….or spying. I’m sure that police, intelligence services, military and the corporates will all be keeping a keen eye on this type of work. If it turns out to be practical, we will, no doubt, see these things crawling all over the walls of Embassies, foreign military installations and our own homes.
The increasing speed of technological advance is amazing but I sometimes wonder about the consequences. I think it’s generally accepted that Capitalism is better than Socialism at promoting invention and innovation. The key to this is probably the concept of limited liability which has enabled much of the western world’s success.
But the downside of this success has been the growth of massive unaccountable multinational corporations. It’s interesting that Western Multinationals are unaccountable but Chinese corporates are often owned by Sovereign Wealth Funds making them accountable to the Chinese government but I don’t want to get into a discussion on the merits of State Capitalism.
So far, we seem to have decided that the innovation and the standard of living which it has achieved is worth the rise of mega corporations but I wonder if this will always be true. More and more it seems that we get more stuff at the expense of our liberty.
We now have fantastic cars, amazing hand held computers, flat screen TVs and all the other stuff but very little time to enjoy it. I remembering reading a comment somewhere that most basements of middle class Americans have unused aqualungs or sky diving gear and Britain is heading that way.
Sure there are some great technologies on the horizon but are these future wonders worth the loss of control of our governments to corporate lobby groups? Is yet more innovation worth the steady privatisation of commercialisation or public space?
What do we value more: Bigger TV screens, the platooning of our cars, cyborg cockroaches or democracy?
We are plummeting into the future and Neil Armstrong died yesterday aged 82. We are living in the future. Pretty soon we will look back to the old days, when Europeans first discovered America, when Napoleon ruled Europe and when men walked on the moon.
Below is a music video by a guy named Roy Cooper. It fits very well as a tribute to Neil Armstrong.
There is talk in the press of the Chinese space program and recently they put their first woman into space. The suggestion is that they are catching up and surpassing the work of the United States. Don’t you believe it. Sure the Chinese are putting people in space and good luck to them. They have learned from the the U.S, the Soviets and the rest of the world and will be using modern technology to shortcut their path into space.
Within the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) there has long been a debate over whether the U.S. should pursue manned or robotic space flight. There are arguments on both sides. Manned space flight is far more thrilling and, some say, more flexible leading to greater discoveries. But robots are cheap and the technology is getting better every day.
You can throw up a lot of robots for the price of a manned flight. Consider that it is now possible for ordinary men and women to build contraptions which approach the boundaries of space using consumer technology such as iPhones, Video cameras and helium balloons. Then consider that the British attempted a mars landing which very nearly succeeded in 2003 for just £44 million!
Next Monday, the 6th August 2012 at 5:31am GMT another Mars landing is scheduled to occur. The NASA Mars Science Laboratory will deposit a rover named Curiosity with objectives including determining Mars’ habitability.
But this will be a landing like no other. The spacecraft will drop through the thin Martian atmosphere in much the same way as the old Apollo capsules returned to Earth. It will trail a parachute to slow it down but after that, the fun begins. Once the spacecraft has slowed sufficiently, the lander will drop from the outer shell and fire rocket engines enabling it to fly across the surface of mars to locate a suitable landing site. Once this is located the machine will hover and lower a rover vehicle via cables onto the surface. The cables will then detach and the “flyer” will zoom off and crash leaving the rover pristine on the surface of mars. Fan-bloody-tastic!
As radio waves take around 20 minutes to travel from Earth to Mars it is not possible for all this to be accomplished via remote control and so onboard computers will handle all decision making. Site selection, time to release the flyer, time to drop the lander. The lot. As if all this were not enough Curiosity has a laser to vaporise small quantities of rock enabling fast analysis and selection of sites where it will deploy it’s drill.
Good luck to the Chinese with their space program but, though the yanks may not be pursuing manned spaceflight, they clearly are pushing the technology for robotic exploration.
- Image source: ESA/NASA
André Kuipers aboard the International Space Station has been capturing some fantastic images of the Earth from space.