What Would You Take With You to the Past?

This is a time machine (ok, it’s not real, small detail):

Time Machine

Time Machine – Source: Locklip.com

And this is the house where Steve Jobs grew up:

The house on Crist Street

The house on Crist Street – Source: sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com

What do they have to do with each other?

The town of Los Altos in Silicon Valley, northern California, saw a lot of activity in June 2012.  Trucks, cranes, giant screens, police cars and neighbors; an entire Hollywood invasion into a quiet little street where Steve Jobs grew up and built the first Apple computer with Steve Wozniak. All for the filming of the movie ‘Jobs’ staring Ashton Kutcher.

Steve Jobs had just passed away 8 months earlier, on Oct 5th 2011. This movie was made to tell the story of one of the most visionary and creative people of our time, who truly changed the world. As I was wandering around I had a thought of which I was reminded again in Jan 2015, when a second movie filming started, at the same location, on the same topic… Twice in a lifetime. How rare. Because this man was rare, and what he created was rare.  I thought about it again this week, so let me spell it out, but first take a good look:

An iPhone

iPhone7

iPhone7 – Source: gottabemobile.com

The iPhone is one of the most wondrous objects ever invented; and now with iPhone7, it might survive an accidental cycle in the washing machine…  So here it is:

  • What would both Steves say if they could see this piece of art back then in that garage?
  • Better yet: how cool would it be to have it on me when I step through a time portal and travel to the past?

Of course I would have no cellular service, no GPS services, and no Wi-Fi.  Still, there’s a bunch of things I could do with it to astonish the natives. Until I run out of battery…  I suppose I should take a charger with me.  The first thing I should do before stepping through the portal is brushing up on the basics of electricity and power generation, in hopes I find a way to create a primitive power supply for the charger, wherever / whenever I land.

I thought about a bunch of other gadgets I might have wanted to take instead, but the funny thing is, in the last 10 years the iPhone and other smartphones have completely eliminated the need for those: flashlights, maps or Garmin navigators, music players, tiny portable TVs, game gadgets, cameras, pagers, watches and alarm clocks, and even laptops to write a document. Why would I need any of those when I have my phone?

Wait. The phone can’t walk, but this little guy can show itself around. Meet the runner up:

A droid

 

However, if I must consider something that’s not a gadget, it must a motorcycle. That has got to get a lot of attention, especially in a horse-riding civilization.

The problem is that very quickly I’ll run out of fuel, and getting it in a pre-fuel-based-engines society is labor intensive.  Not a good plan. But since I already solved the power generation problem with the iPhone idea, the only viable solution is to take with me…

An electric motorcycle

There aren’t that many, but the market is rising thanks to the rise in electric cars. This is a pretty cool one from Zero, a 10-year old electric-motorcycle startup from Santa Cruz, CA:

Victory Isle of Man TT Zero Source: motorcycle.com

Victory Isle of Man TT Zero –  Source: motorcycle.com

The following one is Empulse TT by Brammo from Talent, OR, now owned by Polaris:

Brammo, Empulse TT

Empulse TT, Brammo – Source: Brammo.com

and here’s a beautiful one from a San Francisco startup Mission Motorcycles, that went bankrupt, here’s what they were building, the $30,000 Mission R:

Mission R, Mission Motorcycles

Mission R, Mission Motorcycles – Source: cheatsheet.com/automobiles

Not least, Yamaha PES1 (Passion, Electric, Street, vs. PED1 – Passion, Electric, Dirt), starting production this year:

PES1, Yamaha

PES1, Yamaha – Source: wired.com

 

Anyone have other ideas? What would you take with you to the past?

 

 

 

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I Dream Of 3-D Printing

“Tea, Earl Grey, hot!”

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!
Source: themthdegree.com

These famous words identify Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the fictional star-ship Enterprise. As he speaks these words to a ‘replicator’ installed on a wall in his room, a steaming-hot glass cup of tea appears to his satisfaction. These words have inspired generations to dream of such replicators: future machines that given specific instructions, can produce anything you want.

The idea is not new. Hadn’t humans wished for such magic since the dawn of their existence? It is almost the very definition of magic. Magicians make stuff appear out of thin air, or magically turn one item into another. Alchemists were asked to turn cheap substances into gold; today we know it is possible, but the amount of energy investment required makes such activity futile.

Still, the idea of making anything is so alluring.

The Time Ships

Baxter: The Time Ships
Source: booksellerworld.com

I’m not sure what Stephen Baxter knew about 3-D printing when he wrote The Time Ships, published almost 10 years ago, as a sequel to The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. This most unusual story set 650,000 years in an altered future (then 50 million years in a different past) describes the continued adventures of the Time Traveller. In this future humans seem to be physically ugly, ape looking creatures, but vastly advanced. They have constructed a Dyson sphere, where they live, around the inner solar system, and they trap the Sun’s energy within it. They no longer live on Earth that has thus gone dark.

Time Traveller's quarters

Time Traveller’s quarters
Source: timetravelinstitute.com

These future humans, the Morlocks, have a mechanism embedded within the sphere, that can generate anything they need. Living quarters for the Time Traveller are erected and destroyed like play-dough is used in an animated movie. He is provided food and water automatically by the same mysterious mechanism, underneath his footing, from the same gray matter from which everything else seems to be built. Will we ever reach such efficiency?

Making things is all about manipulating matter, changing its form using chemical or physical processes; electron recycling… Sometimes it’s a lot of work. Many things are no longer made by hand – they are made in factories by machines, but these are dedicated to their purpose; they can’t make anything, they can only make that which they were designed to make. What does it take to create a machine that can make anything?

3D-Printer

Source: makepartsfast.com

Just like it’s possible for a computer to recreate a picture by taking a digital snapshot of it – basically recording pixel by pixel what is the color of the pixel – then printing it out pixel by pixel, similarly it can recreate an object by taking a digital snapshot of it in 3-D: pixel by pixel, for each layer, layer by layer, then printing it out pixel by pixel, layer by layer. The first printer would use ink and print on paper; the second printer would use a special compound that when heated sticks (thermoplastic or metal wire), so that the material in each layer would be combined with the material in the layers above and below. This process is also referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’ or ‘fused deposition modeling’.

Printing Chess

Printing Chess
Source: eos.info

In just a little over 30 years, this idea has gone from an abstract that most couldn’t envision its use, to a technology that is disrupting every aspect of how things are made. it’s about making things that are complex to make by molding or in any other way, and doing it in a way that’s faster and cheaper. The first machines were expensive, but the ‘makers’ movement, hacker communities, ‘Do It Yourself’ hobbyists have pushed the market towards domestic use, by making available affordable smaller printers, and open source market for the 3-D models of things to print.

3-D Printed Yoda

3-D Printed Yoda
Source: geek.com

 

Now the list of uses is endless. With 3-D printers big and small you can now create anything, from automobile and spacecraft engines to jewelry and medicine.

You can make clothes:

3D Printed Clothing

Source: inhabitat.com

You can make legs:

3D Printed Leg

Source: about3dprinters.com

You can also make space station parts.

A week ago, on September 23, 2014, space enthusiasts cheered on as Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) delivered a 3-D printer to ISS (the International Space Station). This will allow the ISS astronauts to replicate parts needed on site.

3-D printer at Zero Gravity

A 3-D printer on board ISS: Now things can be ‘Made in Space’
Source: techtimes.com

The future of the Morlocks seems somewhat depressing, I do hope we don’t end up quite like them. Maybe it’s all about the color.  Cheerful little polymer creatures printed for me by a MakerBot printer in the last Maker Fair I attended, remind me that maybe the secret is to NOT go gray.

3-d printer

Home 3-D printer from Cubify.com

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Flying Over Class Charlie

San Jose Airport at Night

San Jose Airport at Night
Source: SuperShuttle

It is not everyday that you fly over class ‘B’ (Bravo) or ‘C’ (Charlie) with a small aircraft. Private pilots usually try to avoid the busy airspace of international airports. But every once in a while you might get to do that, and if it’s at night – the sight leaves you with awe.

Approaching class Bravo in northern CA is done through the federal system ‘Nor Cal Approach’. They keep you separated from the airliners and you don’t talk to the tower directly. But in class Charlie they do pass you on to the tower. It’s fun to watch the ‘big guys’ in the sky, and have them and the tower converse with you, acknowledging your position.

I did not take the picture above when I recently passed over San Jose International Airport – I was too busy. But the picture I found depicts the spirit.

By the way, this is what class Bravo looks like at night:

SFO at Night

SFO at Night
Source: Wikimedia

 

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Hardware is Hard

El Pulpo MecanicoThe month of May marks every year a very cool/artsy/geeky event to attend in the Bay Area in Nor Cal: Maker Faire Bay Area. Similar events take place around the country spring-through-fall. Robots, home-made machines, metallic kick-nacks, inventions, wearables and smartables, 3-D printers, digital and physical tech that inspires and ignites curiosity in all, especially young attendees. The above El Pulpo Mecanico is an example of the things you can expect to see.

This year a ‘maker’ conference, hosted by Oracle Corporation in Redwood Shores CA, was started to support the ‘maker movement’, noting the impact in just recent years of trends that have made it possible for it to take flight: crowd-funding makes it easier for younger makers to fund their projects, and companies such as Intel, Qualcom, and many start-ups, make it easier to find basic building blocks to ‘make’. The movement has coined the term M2M (machine to machine communication) as part of IoT (internet of things) – cloud based connectivity of devices that push or pull status and data, and act upon it.

“Hardware is Hard” were words spoken by folks from Dragon Innovation and Blue Robotics. Overcoming this hardship is at the heart of building ‘smart things’.  Founders from Pebble and Spark came to talk about their hardware and software combo, and inspire people with the road they took; and the audience cheered with awe, reassured that you don’t have to be Apple to create great things.

Which brings us to the world of ‘smart wearables’. Pebble is a smartwatch that can connect to smart devices both iOS (Apple) and Android (Google) based, and Spark is an open source operating system for cloud-connected things, using it you can create interfaces to other machines. Using both you can create great applications for Pebble, which is the only way to compete with the emergence of other smartwatches.

What do smartwatches do? You have to remember that they are not yet intended to replace the gadgets we currently carry in our pockets and purses. They don’t have many apps that work on them independently, rather they’re mainly used to display on your wrist notifications and content from the smartphone nearby, using Bluetooth.

While we are waiting for a smartwatch from Apple, Pebble’s competition includes quite a few based on Google’s Android Wear platform. G Watch from LG has step-tracking that encourages people to walk… Nice for fitness oriented folks.

G Watch - LG

G Watch – LG
Source: Devindra Hardawar/VentureBeat

Samsung Gear Live has a heart rate monitor. (both were given free to recent Google I/O conference attendees…)

Gear Live - Samsung

Gear Live
Source: Samsung

Motorola’s Moto 360 has been delayed for months. Not yet released, it is rumored to have a wireless charger.

Moto 360

Moto 360

Smartwatch applications can extend to the watch from the smartphone, you don’t install them on the watch. The platform allows you to tap and swipe, and drill-down by touch.

The nicest feature is using voice commands to control Google Now – a virtual assistant like iPhone’s Siri. To me this is that part that most promises to bring science fiction into our lives. You can’t yet do ‘Face-time’ by talking to your wrist, but when that happens – soon thereafter  – I hope to see gadgets style James Bond or Spy Kids 2…

Spy Kids2 Watches

Spy Kids2 Watches
Source: Miramax.com

 

 

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Apple CarPlay: Just the Tip of the Car-Apps Iceberg

Some call it: In-Vehicle Experience of the Future. I call it Helga. Say ‘Hello’ to Helga, my car’s AI.

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‘Emirai’ system Mitsubishi
designboom.com

Helga: “Good morning, girl! Are we going to work? I’m 96% charged so I’m good to go. I sense you got your coffee mug, it’s about 70% full, so not stopping at Starbucks.”

Me, settling in: “Morning! Yes – work, no Starbucks, and I have to drop off a package in the mail.”

Helga, pulling out of the driveway: “Nearest post office is still closed. We can stop by at the one near your office, by the time we get there it will be open. Traffic looks bad this morning, so I’m not taking the freeway, re-routing via expressway. ETA 8:43, that’s in 36 minutes including 9 min at the post office, I don’t know what’s the hold up, but there’s a line. You’ll still have enough time before your 9:00 meeting with your boss and 5 peers titled ‘Helga Nav Update UI review’. Hey, wait-a-minute… Helga – that’s me. Am I getting an upgrade?”

Me, smiling: “Yes, you lucky beast, you’re getting an upgrade. Now enough with the chit chat. Route approved. But I do feel like driving today. Do you mind?”

Helga: “Well, so long as you don’t go over 90 MPH. I do not enjoy the anxiety. And watch out for that pole, when we arrive at the parking garage. You almost hit it last time. No need for name-calling. If I’m a beast, at least I’m a pretty one. You got the wheels?”

Me: “I got the wheels. Hey, don’t mention my past behavior when there’s a passenger with us. Play us some Vivaldi?”

Helga: “Acknowledged. What Vivaldi, I thought it’s a Maroon 5 kind-of-day”.

Me: “No, I want some classic. My 9:00 is going to be very stressful; I want to clear my head”.

Helga: “Your wish is my command, Vivaldi it is. You are so unpredictable.”

Me: “Oh, I’m so lucky that is not true. If it were true you would have been a pointless impossibility.”

———————————————————————————————————————

So what do you think of the above conversation, between me and Helga? Whatever you think, you should know that it is absolutely, positively, possible and feasible with technologies that exist today.

1.  After decades invested in research, multiple companies and research institutions can provide speech recognition by recording voice, analyzing the audio data, and transcribing it to text, using language models. The more focused the usage and the language model (on a domain or specific accent), the higher the accuracy.

2.  Next step is understanding the text. A wealth of available NLP (Natural Language Processing) technologies can decipher human language, analyze it, and respond in a meaningful way according to rules learned from vast corpus of training data.  Apple’s Siri and Google’s Now are both based on these technologies.

3.  A computer generated voice can be routed to the car’s speakers. Cars had the ability to ‘talk’ some limited sentences such as ‘Lights are on!’, in some models since the 1990’s, but I suspect that might have been a recording. That’s not the same as generating the audio output on the fly.

4.  % charged – well, the car ‘knows’ exactly what’s the status of the battery, or if it is gasoline based it can tell tank % full.

5.  The presence of the coffee mug – a simple sensor for weight or even heat can sense it and make use of this info.

6.  All route and re-routing calculations mentioned – Waze and other map apps already do all of this, just need to verbalize it.

7.  Self driving? I don’t think I have to tell you about all the self parking cars that are already available in the market today, and all the self driving prototypes in testing.  Cameras and sensors all around the car make it possible to identify proximity to obstacles and other moving vehicles, to give it a complete picture of the environment in which it operates. Machine learning is used to learn how drivers operate in these conditions. It’s a very complex problem to solve and it will take years, but it will be solved.

8.  Car apps: If your phone knows your schedule – there’s no reason why your car can’t have access to it.

This is it. This is where devices like ‘CarPlay’ come into play.

Last month was special: 3.14 – Pi month! And it was also special because Apple CarPlay was announced, a device that connects your iPhone to your car via an iOS display, that brings you control over messages, music, and navigation. Eventually more and more apps will be adapted to this use-case and be brought into this offering. The idea is that people have dozens of applications running on their phone, and this is a way of adapting them and bringing them into the car.

Apple CarPlay in Volvo Autoblog.com

Apple CarPlay in Volvo
Autoblog.com

The changes in this area are happening at the speed of light. In 2008-9 in many cars you could listen to music played off your iPod or iPhone using an auxiliary cable, or connect your blue-tooth enabled phone to the car, to have conversations and music through the car speakers. This was much better than the clunky car-phones that existed only in luxury cars just a few years earlier.  In 2012 many cars already have a USB connection, that allows you to also charge the phone, while browsing through its music using the car’s controls.  But the car – phone integration was not yet complete, and was not the only thing happening in the cars.

The truth is this space is messy. While there is an attempt to have better interfaces between cars and smartphones, to take advantage of apps you already have, there is also an attempt to create a platform of both hardware and software to run dedicated apps in the car. If you try to somehow mix the two, you also have a problem of compatibility.  Think about it this way: every manufacturer is creating their own platform, and then some soliciting developers to develop apps for them, some developing their own.  2013 saw a burst in car-based applications, including a competition for developers conducted by Ford.  Some manufacturers use satellite based wireless internet. Many rely on Internet connectivity via cellular networks of users’ smartphones, but that means users have to either switch car or switch phone if they are incompatible.  This became clear with the Porsche launch at the end of 2012, with platform integration for Blackberry.

This is still an issue with CarPlay. Until a similar Android-based device is introduced, you would get the system with your new 2015 Mercedes-Benz, Volvo or Hyundai only if you own an iPhone. It’s interesting to see it implemented in different ways in the 3 different cars. Here’s a video showing its introduction at the Geneva Auto show 2014.

 

Will a standard platform be created, as an option for providing applications in any car, and connecting the apps from any phone? Will car apps ignore phone apps or become superior for in-car use? It seems 2014 is the year of platforms and connectivity alliances. Car manufacturers enter relationships with wireless internet providers, and a new alliance (OAA) was created to bring the Android platform to connected cars. Only time will tell us what to make of this.

What I do know is that as far as the future of car apps is concerned, CarPlay is just the tip of the Iceberg. A real giant Iceberg.

 

 

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2013: 13th of 13 Things I Want to Know: What’s The Deal With Frogs In Space?

Sept 11th, 2013 – NASA carries out the much anticipated LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) launch to the moon on an unmanned mission. The liftoff took place from Pad 0B at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. On the next day the camera crews reported that the cameras caught a frog launching into the air with the rocket.

Image of frog lifted with Nasa LADEE launch

A still camera on a sound trigger captured this photo of an airborne frog as NASAs LADEE spacecraft lifted off from Pad 0B at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Source: ABC News.

That’s not the only ‘froggie’ presence we’ve experienced lately. An interesting and cute yellowish-green one starred in October at the end of the movie Gravity (released Oct 4th 2013), reminding the returning astronaut Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) how wonderful life on Earth is.

Last but not least, the trials of this space-frog in zero gravity freak her out, and make me think we should leave them behind.

Maybe frogs shouldn’t be in space.

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2013: 12th of 13 Things I Want to Know: How to Deal With Rejection?

I didn’t write this. I have no idea who did, it just amuses me a great deal.

–——————–

Professor Hombre
Chair – Search Committee
Department of Biochemistry
University of Towanda Health Sciences Center, Towanda, IA

Dear Professor Hombre,

Thank you for your letter of March 6. After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite the University of Towanda’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor in your department this May. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best luck in rejecting future applicants.
Sincerely,

Goddard Youville

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2013: 11th of 13 Things I Want to Know: Could Superman Help Felix Baumgartner?

An Austrian skydiver broke the speed of sound in a jump from the ‘edge of space’ at 128,000 feet (~40km or ~24mi), as part of a Red Bull promotion, on Oct 14th, 2012, the 65th anniversary to Chuck Yeager’s record breaking that speed in flight. Can you imagine this? Breaking Mach 1 with your body. He was supersonic for about 30 seconds during the 4 minute free-falling part of his jump, reaching 1.25 Mach, then was slowed down by the drag of increasing air density. After 4:20 min. he deployed a parachute.

This wasn’t exactly where we define outer space to begin. Our atmosphere has 3 layers, and this altitude is at the higher part of the Stratosphere, the middle layer. The official edge-of-space is at 100km. Still, an out-of-this-world stunt.

Mount Everest Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mount Everest
Source: Wikimedia Commons

For comparison:

  • Regular skydivers jump from 4000-10,000 ft.
  • Mount Everest is about 29,000 ft tall.
  • Jet airliners always climb to above 18,000, and usually cruise at 30,000-39,000 ft, at the lower part of the Stratosphere. This is where the temperature is constant, so it’s above weather and turbulence conditions, and where air density is low so less drag and less fuel used. This is also at a quarter of the altitude of Felix’s jump!
SR-71 Blackbird Source: iliketowastemytime.com

SR-71 Blackbird

 

Regular aircraft can’t reach this high. The aircraft that came closest is Blackbird SR-71, the spy-plane that was designed to fly at Mach 3, at 85,000 ft. That isn’t high enough!

 

What about SpaceShipTwo? Virgin Galactic’s space plane can’t reach so high either.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 gizmag.com

Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2

Space shuttles on the other hand, would be a slight overkill… They orbited at 200 miles and were decommissioned in July 2011. Baumgartner reached his jump point in capsule carried by a controlled helium balloon, wearing a pressurized suit. Others did that before, but this set the record also on the highest altitude for a manned balloon flight. His mentor for the mission was the previous record holder, Joseph Kittinger.

So I wonder, if he got in trouble in this jump could Superman help him?

Superman Returns

Superman Returns
Comicvine.com

The Superman character created in 1933, was given flight ability in 1940… his abilities increased until he could achieve spaceflight well before we could. This includes super-speed, as Superman was described as being faster than a speeding bullet.

Speeding Bullet Source: hd4desktop.com

Speeding Bullet
Source: hd4desktop.com

On the low range a bullet leaves the muzzle of a gun at about 120m/s = 432km/h, much slower than Felix’s fall, but modern rifles can produce speeds 10 times as fast. It would seem Superman could indeed catch up to Felix if necessary.

Felix in fact did get in trouble. About a minute into the fall he got into an uncontrollable spin, much as seen in the movie Gravity, where the frantically spinning astronaut is played by actress Sandra Bullock.  Felix managed to stop it without assistance, the mechanism by which he was able to get the situation under control is not clear. If he didn’t, this stunt might have resulted in his death.

I mentioned this story a couple months ago in a previous post discussing the Hyperloop – a proposal for a semi-vaccum operated bullet-fast Mach speed train. I come back to it fascinated with the concept of facing fear, especially fear of high speed. We got used to high velocity in our lives, such that has never been experienced by any living creature for millions of years, before humans started seeking it a couple centuries ago. We seek it for practical reasons, but also for recreation. No other organism is known to seek higher and higher speed recreationally. Running very fast was never our stronger side, and is not what helped our ancestors hunt or avoid getting hunted.

Speed Skiing epicski.com

Speed Skiing
epicski.com

Still people enjoy facing this fear, experiencing speeds doing things that often get them killed. Cyclists observe the monuments along their favorite routes, as they descend on their bikes at speeds exceeding 100 km/h; Speed skiers exceed 300 km/h on a pair of skis, wearing fire-proof suits; Those of us who don’t reach that speed still find ourselves occasionally with a scream in the back of our head, rushing to the front to come out… knowing full well how mortal we are, we come back the next day to the same slope. We admire those who can do it better and faster than everyone else; the snow-borders, roller-bladers, race-car drivers; the motorcycle racers, stunt pilots, test pilots; The sky-divers, BASE jumpers, and the Felix Baumgartners.

If there is an evolutionary advantage to this behavior, pushing the limits to experience this rush – I don’t know what it is.

 

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2013: 10th of 13 Things I Want to Know: What Credit Score Do I Need For a Home Loan on Mars?

Source: Mars One

Source: Mars One

Discovery news posted this short news bit earlier this year, summarizing that colonizing beyond our planet is a doable feat. This is based on expectations from private ventures, to be able to run operations much leaner than NASA, mainly relying on reusable rockets.  A vision of an 80,000 humans colony was shared as well.

A home loan company put together the enlightening and entertaining infographic below, showing via a graphical calculation that a not-so-bad scenario means a cost of $48 Billion to move to, and live on Mars.

If indeed it will cost almost $50 Billion for one adult to move to Mars, what credit score do I need to get a home loan? How long would it take me to pay it off, assuming a good salary working on Mars should cover it?
Here’s the very informative graphic (click on it to zoom):

The-Cost-of-Living-on-Mars

Posted in Lets Go to Mars, Space Exploration | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

2013: 9th of 13 Things I Want to Know: Have You Considered the Hyperloop and the Fear Factor?

Much hype about the Hyperloop, the radical proposal for extreme high-speed transit from LA to SF in around 35 minutes, using passenger pods in a low pressure air-cushioned tube.  [Here’s a summary article]. Some of the reactions have a negative slant, hinting accusations such as that the inventor purposely underestimated the associated costs, attempting to sabotage the California High Speed Rail project out of malice and motive to profit. If anything, it would make more sense to believe the motive is the wish as a tax payer to see something better put in place. There’s a notion that the self-driving car would render this system obsolete because the long ride would no longer be wasteful of the driver’s time. This last article on Forbes.com IM(not…)HO makes no sense. If the cost of the ticket is not an issue, who wants to spend 5-6 hours confined in a car, when you can reach your destination in 35-45 minutes, then stretch your legs and go have breakfast (not to-go)?  If you don’t have better use of your time, come to this small unpretentious place in Cupertino CA, Coffee Society, where Steve Jobs used to hang out…

There is one aspect, however, of which I see no mention. The blog publication calls for technical commentary and feedback, but we can’t move on without the human factor; or rather, the fear factor. There has been discussion of safety, but that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. There’s also a discussion about vomit and handling a 0.5 G force. That’s still not it. In decades to come, if this writing survives the test of time some might review it and feel pity at the narrow-minded, fearful, primitives that we might prove to have been. After all, it’s the same pity that I felt as a kid, when reading about important inventions of the 20th century: some of those who spoke against the frightful ‘horseless-carriage’ claimed that at 60 kph (a little less than 40 mph) the wind will be so strong it will blow your head off.

This kind of comment is understandable, considering no one had any experience traveling that fast. We now know that the sensation of your head almost getting blown off only starts when traveling on a motorcycle (as an example) at speeds exceeding 120 mph. When this happens, all you have to do is keep your head as low as possible, behind the windshield. [U.S authorities should not be taking this as any admission that I have, in fact, traveled at such speeds on any U.S highway 🙂 ]

Source: jonnycinco.blogspot.com

Source: jonnycinco.blogspot.com

Few of us are thrill seekers, and will try anything even if it gets them killed. More of us will only try it, despite their fears, after it’s been proven for a while. Some of us will never try it. I can only imagine what it felt like, to climb into the first aircraft built after the concept was proved by the Wright brothers, when no one else has done it before.  Not everyone is Felix Baumgartner, the Austrian skydiver who broke the speed of sound in his last jump from the edge of space on Oct 15th, 2012. Not a coincidence, this date was the 15th anniversary of breaking Mach 1 and the all time speed record on land – on Oct 15th, 1997 by ThrustSSC, with engines borrowed from a British F-4 Phantom jet fighter, driven by Royal Air Force pilot Andy Green.  I suppose it does actually make sense that such speeds would be first driven by a jet pilot. This event celebrated in turn another anniversary: it was recorded 50 years (and one day) after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the air on Oct 14th, 1947.

Breaking Mach 1 on Land Source: http://www.speed101.com

Breaking Mach 1 on Land
Source: http://www.speed101.com

The plan says that “Beautiful landscape will be displayed in the cabin”, and the cabin will be enclosed in a steel tube, so I take it this means you can’t look outside. Other than acceleration and deceleration, you won’t feel the speed. However, I suspect many people won’t be able to tolerate being enclosed like that for 35 minutes, even if they are not claustrophobic.

What if there were windows, and if the tube had a glass dome? You don’t feel the speed on board an airliner at high altitude. But in this tube so close to the ground you would.  There are not many humans who have experienced traveling so fast, so close to the ground.  I can now only think of 8 such humans.

On June 7th, 1981, eight pilots put the Falcon F-16 on the hall of fame, in the one of the most shocking, daring military operations of modern history. Until then the F-16 was a relatively new wild bird. It was built to be lighter and cheaper, with only one engine, and first to use fly-by-wire. It’s volatile and unstable, but that’s exactly what could make it the most maneuverable fighter, all it takes is an extremely good pilot… and these eight were.  They were loaded to the very last drop of fuel, which had to last for a 1200 mile round trip – 600 miles in each direction. Realistically none of them expected to make it back. The mission was to fly over enemy territory, drop their bombs with extreme precision on target and return, but the target was protected with anti-aircraft missile defense systems. To avoid discovery by radar, they had to fly at extreme low altitude, at times 50-100 feet above ground, at 540 knots, for over an hour in each direction. I can’t begin to describe the nerves of steel that are needed to pull this off, to fly so low, so fast, for so long. Flying so low goes against every instinct. It feels too fast even with a light aircraft at only 100 knots, over the relative safely of flat water…  That flight must have felt like Anakin’s race scene in StarWars Episode 1.

It took a year of secret planning and training, and they did it. The nuclear reactor at the heart of young Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, that was just a few months shy of capacity to ignite a 3rd world war, was destroyed to the ground. When President Reagan got the call, he yelled at the phone: “They did what?!!”  The American cabinet with George Bush at the lead was outraged, but American military commanders called the Israeli Chief of Air Force to thank him. All 8 pilots came home. Elon Musk might be familiar with this story. One of these pilots had a first name of the same roots. It was Ilan Ramon, who later became an astronaut, and was killed with his 6 crewmates aboard the Columbia space shuttle on Feb. 1st 2003.

And now back to the Hyperloop idea. In 1995, Stephen Baxter published The Time Ships, a sequel to The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. In it he describes the view from the time machine, as the traveler passes through time faster and faster.  Cities rise and fall, the sun and moon’s fast movement become bright arcs circling in the sky, and everything else becomes a blur. Would this experience be anything like that?

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Source: en.wikipedia.org

As a society we have a need for speed… and people get used to technology. They want to embrace it, and want to follow the first brave souls who test it. For this one they might need more time. It’s not a two minute thrill ride in Disneyland that you can choose to avoid if you’re getting a headache. It’s supposed to become a means of transportation that people can count on to get them to their business meeting or unite them with their family without causing them a heart attack. It might take more than a one year fighter pilot’s training. I do believe we’ll get there eventually, but there will always be those who won’t set foot on it, just like there will always be Lieutenant Barclay who refuses to use the transporter beam…

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2013: 8th of 13 Things I Want to Know: How Much Deodorant Will the Winners of the AXE Apollo Competition Get?

AXE-to-space

At the beginning of this year, AXE brand of men’s personal care products created a sensation with a marketing stunt around a Superbowl ad. The ad presented users of the Apollo scent as heroes.  What can be more heroic than an astronaut? The promotional video therefor featured the hero astronaut and his girlfriend. I don’t think I ever saw anything so cheesy. In any case, somehow this brought about the idea of actually recruiting people to sign up, go through space-flight training, and compete against each other over a seat on the space-plane Lynx.

A model of the XCOR Aerospace’s Lynx suborbital space plane was in fact present at the Space Tech Expo conference in May 2013 in Long Beach, CA. This was the sign:

XCOR Lynx at Space Tech Expo

XCOR Lynx: the sign at Space Tech Expo May 2013

This was the booth. You can see the illustration on the left, showing the path the space plane takes when it flies to space. After an initial engine burst to get it to altitude, the rest is just a glide back to the ground.

XCOR Lynx at Space Tech Expo

XCOR Lynx at Space Tech ExpoAnd this was the model:

XCOR Lynx model

XCOR Lynx model

What’s most amazing about this story is that the plane will not be operational for another year at least, but AXE still managed to get Buzz Aldrin – the 2nd Moon-Walker – to sponsor this event. See a humorous article at wired.com, that was published in January after the initial announcement.

There was conflicting information about the gender the competition is open to. Some publications said the competition is open for both men and women. That’s not so clear from the ad at the top. In any case, I would like to know how the competitors enjoyed themselves in space training, and how much deodorant will they see from this deal…

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2013: 7th of 13 Things I Want to Know: Sending Up a Bag of Light – Why?

Source: azraelcoladilla.com

Source: azraelcoladilla.com

9:30 PM local time, a beach on the Pacific; Summer time, completely dark, and I was on my way out when some commotion caught my attention.  A group of people of all ages were gathered around some light source. Suddenly it rose up in the air, and everyone was cheering and clapping. I stopped, fascinated. A small fire was dancing around in the lantern’s bag while it was rising higher and higher. In just a few seconds it was too small for me to react and take a picture, but it looked exactly like the ones in the pictures posted here.

Source: azraelcoladilla.com

Source: azraelcoladilla.com

This is how this story started, and it’s been sitting in draft for a while because I didn’t know how it ends. Now I do. It’s all about sending things up.

A different beach, same planet, just today; Kids sending up a remote controlled helicopter. Go back in time, 15th century Italy: Leonardo Da Vinci working on his drawings for flying contraptions. A spin forward in the time machine: hot air balloons followed by the giant Zeppelins. Another spin, a small airport just around the corner: a dad and his two kids sitting on some rocks at the edge of the runway, eating sandwiches and watching aircraft taking off and landing. Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum: Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebook, containing drawings and notes about bird flight has arrived, for the second time, on loan.

Leonardo Da vinci's Flight of Birds.  Source: Washingtonpost.com

Leonardo Da vinci’s Flight of Birds. Source: Washingtonpost.com

NASA’s account on Twitter: a government institution communicating about sending things up. Ardusat Kickstarter: a tiny cubicle satellite, paid for by the crowd, launched into space and the crowd take turns controlling it, taking pictures and running experiments. Bruno Mars: talking to the moon.

A Cube satellite nearing ISS. Source: Singularityhub.com

A Cube satellite nearing ISS. Source: Singularityhub.com

People have always been busy trying to rise up and leave our nest. Those who can – do. Those who thought about it early on – carve the career path that takes them there. Those who obsessed early enough – work in related industries.   Percent-wise, the number of people who care about it in a significant way and show any degree of interest and support is very small. If you ask people around you – colleagues, friends, family, neighbors, chances are they couldn’t care less, though they might show mild interest in significant news. But in numbers this tiny fraction does still translate to several million. A few million people ‘think the world’ of space exploration, aviation, and sending things up. Their support will ensure that progress doesn’t stop. I think to them Chris Hadfield dedicated his version of David Bowie’s words: “Ground Control to Major Tom!” This once-in-a-lifetime recording was published on May 12, 2013, on the eve of his last day as commander of the ISS, and last day on board.

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2013: 6th of 13 Things I Want to Know: What is the Biggest Eye Ever?

James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope
Source: NASA

NASA’s 2018 Next Generation James Webb Space Telescope in Full Size

Taking place in Austin, TX, the SXSW Interactive Festival Last March 8-12 2013 was to feature many sessions and activities on the topic of space exploration.  One of the most exciting sessions, was a panel discussion about the new next generation space telescope, NASA’s James Webb space telescope (JWST). In fact, the telescope was not only to be a subject for discussion, conference attendees could actually see it with their own eyes; or rather, a full size model. FULL size.

This telescope is to replace Hubble. It is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).  It will be 100 time more powerful, a tennis-court in size. It will be designed to answer questions for which you really need such a massive telescope, questions about the origins of the universe, the most distant galaxies, and objects that are hidden from our view. It will also participate in our continuous search for anyone else out there. It will be mainly designed for the infrared range, somewhat overlapping the visible range.

This ambitious project has a target launch date in 2018. It is planned to launch to an orbit that is beyond Earth’s moon, at a distance of about 1 million miles from Earth, so that it can get better pictures of the far reaches of the universe.  Maintaining the Hubble telescope presented a challenge at times, but astronauts did visit it as necessary over the years. It would probably be a bigger challenge to do the same for Webb, since it will be so much further away.

There’s still lots of work to do. In the meantime you can watch the real thing under construction via web-cam.  And how was it received at the conference? Well, NASA conducted right next to the model, under the stars, the world record largest astronomy lesson! As such, it officially made it into the Guinness Book of Records!

Related link:  http://jwstsite.stsci.edu/webb_telescope/behind_the_webb

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2013: 5th of 13 Things I Want to Know: Is a Badass Look a Valid Requirement for a Spacesuit?

Rumor has it, someone at SpaceX actually wrote they require a “badass” look in the spec delivered last year to Orbital Outfitters for a pressure spacesuit. I’m curious who…?
This is what a normal spec looks like (NASA, Apollo 1, April 1962):
spacesuit-spec

Coming soon is a detailed article on space-suit design.

Posted in Space Exploration | Leave a comment

2013: 4th of 13 Things I Want to Know: What is The Blackest Black in The Dark?

1905.

A youngster named Albert comes up with ideas about the nature of light that change our grasp of the universe forever;  Ideas such as speed limited, distances stretching, and a four dimensional world, where the 4th dimension is time; Ideas that to this date are difficult for most to comprehend. It took him another 10 years to put together the math to prove it. That math generated some odd predictions.  Like the theoretical possibility of stellar-sized mass concentrated in an infinitely small space, where time stands still. I need to read that sentence that I had just written one more time. How can that be? The laws of nature will prevent something like that from ever materializing. Or so he thought. He was wrong.

Astronomy and space exploration are probably the most popular fields of science among non-scientists. School kids get excited when learning about the Solar System and building models of it. Teens and adults are entertained by sci-fi movies and video games taking them off planet. One of the most popular hobbies is building telescopes. And how many people blew up stuff in their back yard, attempting to build a rocket, as opposed to, let’s say, the number of people who tried to build a pasta maker?

I was just reminded this week about several rockets built by several students led by Eytan Rath at my high school as a private initiative, that were launched with the quite irresponsible assistance of the English teacher (just don’t tell the principal!). I am not sure how much that effort was fueled by a desire to explore space, I will have to ask.

In any case, it’s no wonder that scientific discoveries in the astronomy field get more attention than in any other field. And among the most popular objects of observation and discovery are black holes, objects in space so dense, they pull and swallow everything around them, and even light can’t escape heir gravity. If they emit no light, we can’t see them. How then, did we find that they really do exist?

Black-hole-with-jet

Image Source: scienceatcal.berkeley.edu

Seeing is Believing

It is not entirely correct that we can’t see them, even though they won’t appear as in the picture above. Gas and cosmic material may swirl around them, swept up in the surface rotation, before falling in. Hawking showed that they emit small amounts of thermal radiation. Planets may revolve around them in speeds and orbits unexplained by other bodies around. There are ways to indirectly ‘see’ them.

But let’s take a step back. Einstein has shown that gravity can affect light’s motion.  In 1915 two other researchers gave solutions to gravity fields in a point mass, and have shown that there is peculiar behavior where it becomes a singularity and other terms in Einstein’s equations become infinite.  In 1931 it was calculated that a star above 1.4 solar masses, at the end of its life, has no stable solution. If it’s not much bigger, as a ‘White Dwarf’ it will collapse into a ‘Neutron Star’. But in 1939 it was theorized that for bodies larger than 3 solar masses, they will collapse all the way to a singularity.  Such a collapse can occur when the gravity of the object is greater than the pressure resisting it, which happens when the core of the star cools off. There are no laws of physics to stop it. All in theory.

For the next 20-30 years the subject remained a theoretical curiosity. Interest started to peak in the 1960’s again because pulsars were discovered – rotating neutron stars. Stephan Hawking, his colleague and friend Kip Thorne, and Thorne’s mentor John Wheeler are the 3 most renowned physicists who had the most impact on the research in this field. In fact John Wheeler was the first to use the term ‘Black hole’ publically in a lecture in 1967. Many others, however, dedicated their entire careers to this research, as it became clear that such objects do exist, and as their study became a legitimate scientific topic.

 Strange Indeed

The strangest part discovered about black holes is that after one becomes stable, you can measure its three characteristic properties: mass, charge, and angular momentum – because they can be measured from the outside, however you can never measure anything about what has subsequently fallen into it.  You lose information because it gets crushed into the singularity, and the only way for information to come out is in case of split particles. This is also the way for black holes to ‘evaporate’ or lose rotation: if a particle goes in and gets split in two, it is possible for one of them to get more energy and escape, while the other goes in with ‘negative energy’, slowing down the rotation.

Another bizarre effect is the ‘gravitational time dilation’: If an observer on a starship is looking onto a shuttle that is falling into a black hole, the shuttle passengers experience this immediately, but to the outside observer it appears to slow down as it approaches the event horizon – the ‘point of no return’, taking an infinite amount of time to reach it.  Clocks on the shuttle would seem to the outside observer to have slowed down, until coming to a full stop. Light emitted from the shuttle would appear redder and dimmer – a gravitational redshift – until it fades completely. This process was featured quite realistically in one of the best episodes of the TV series Stargate: SG-1, ‘A Matter of Time’ (1998). See in a list of ‘Popular TV Shows Featuring a Black Hole’ at Stardate’s Black Hole Encyclopedia.

Black-hole-stargate

Image source: blackholes.stardate.org

The BIG ones

The mysteries don’t end there. Since the 1970’s astronomers learned how to look for signs of black holes, and how to measure their mass. As bigger and bigger ones were identified, scientists became very puzzled. A black hole measuring 3 solar masses can be explained as a big star collapsing.  Note that usually original mass is much larger, mostly lost in a preceding supernova, so such an object could have originated in a star with 12-15 solar masses. How do you explain ones measuring thousands of solar masses? Millions? Billions?

Research in the 1990’s and 2000’s led to the discovery in 2002 that there is a ‘super-massive’ black hole in the Milky Way, and to confirmation that at the heart of every galaxy seen there is such a giant black hole. Their existence may be explained by very massive stars that formed and collapsed in the early universe, during the initial formation of these galaxies, when matter clusters were denser. It would seem their nature is tied to and can help explain how galaxies were formed. Some of them might have been created shortly after the big bang, and have been growing since, by assimilating matter around them. Black holes might also grow when two galaxies collide: their black holes can merge into a bigger one.

In the last couple of years real giants were discovered where their mass is measured in the billions of solar masses. Luckily they are located hundreds of millions of light years away. That’s very far.

See a related article about black-hole phobia at Astronaut.com

Posted in Astronomy, Sci Fi | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2013: 3rd of 13 Things I Want to Know: What’s The Yahoo ‘Better World Ripple Effect’ Doing at a Hair Salon?

 The Yahoo 'Better World Ripple Effect'

Promoting the Yahoo ‘Better World Ripple Effect’ at the hair salon.

So I learned about the Yahoo ‘better world ripple effect’ in the most unlikely of places: at the hair salon, while waiting to be called upon, with my nose in a pile of magazines. Now I’m sitting patiently, while my hair is getting pulled and detangled, writing these notes, using my ever-so-handy smart gadget.

Yahoo employees got somewhat negative press lately with the whole ‘working-from-home’ fiasco. Here’s something positive. What caught my attention was the calm voice of a big guy talking about an anonymous Yahoo employee who changed his life.  He said that he was standing in line at Toys R Us and a person standing in line with him demanded to pay for all the toys in his cart, and then some, to make sure each one if his kids gets a present. The surprised dad protested, but the other person insisted, telling him he’s participating in a program at his company, Yahoo, intended to create positive ripples. Like an organized pay-it-forward program, the idea is that when a person does something positive for random people, it will inspire the recipients to do the same, and this will create a ripple that will spread, eventually making this world a significantly better experience for all.

The guy getting his hair cut said this did inspire him. He thinks he now affected the lives of 5-6 people, and he’s hoping this ripple effect won’t lose momentum. He’s hoping this ripple will affect real change for the better, spreading to more and more people. He also said he now uses Yahoo’s website more – out of gratitude. I’d like to think that wasn’t the intent of whoever initiated the program.

Sometimes when we are busy doing our thing we forget we are not alone. Just wanted to share this story.

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

2013: 2nd of 13 Things I Want to Know: When is Iran’s President Going into Space?

Did an Iranian monkey in fact get to space last month? Will Ahmadinejad in fact be next?

There was noIran space monkey independent confirmation to Iran’s claim that they launched a monkey into space, but this story was all over the news last month. There was also a debate about a discrepancy in published pictures of the monkey. Those were explained: the explanation given was that some of the pictures were from archives, possibly involving a monkey that died in a 2011 failed launch. In short, it is possible that this did happen, that there was a successful attempt to launch a monkey into space, before such an attempt is made by Iran with humans.

The monkey in the picture looks quite frightened.  Not sure if this is before, or after. In any event, Iran’s absolute ruler said he’s willing to be the first human to be sent to space aboard an Iranian rocket. For real? After looking at this picture? What are the chances? Many don’t believe this can happen, due to the time involved and his current age. Many others hope that this will happen, and give the population some relief from what they believe is a pretend democracy.

And, of course, since everyone has their own point of view, some folks are not concerned about the monkey, or about the Iranians chances of saying ‘Bon Voyage’ to their president, rather they are concerned with Iran’s show of launch capabilities.

But hey, what do I know? I really am curious to know if Ahmadinejad will go, but I’ll believe it when I see it, in news from a non-Iranian source.

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2013: 1st of 13 Things I Want to Know: Is the Tweeting ISS Astronaut Happy with his ISP?

Is Chris Hadfield who tweets from space on-board the International Space Station happy with his Internet provider?

Hadfield-Twitter
I’m always complaining about my service. Sometimes it’s too slow. Sometimes it’s not available. Astronauts have been tweeting from the space station since 2009. It just occurred to be they must be really close up there to Internet carrying satellites, with very little interference, and no closer neighbors. Wouldn’t it mean their service is better and faster?

Hadfield had been using Twitter extensively to communicate and send awesome Earth photography to his followers on Earth. On 1.3.2013 he had risen to Twitter fame due to an unusual exchange with William Shatner, AKA Captain James T. Kirk of the fictional starship Enterprise. Then, additional Enterprise crew members joined the fun. It all started when out of the blue, Shatner, a Canadian actor, asked Hadfield over Twitter: “Are you tweeting from space?” The Canadian astronaut responded: “Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we’re detecting signs of life on the surface.”

In my opinion, this should be the most retweeted tweet of all time. This story was published in many places, I got these images from the Canadian Space Agency’s website.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 1

MBB stands for William Shatner’s standard signature: “My best, Bill”.
Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 2

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 3

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 4

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 5

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 6

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 7

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 8

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 9

Spock says Live Long and Prosper…
Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 10

2nd man on the moon, wants to tweet from Mars.
Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 11

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Hadfield tweets starfleet 12

Source: Canadian Space Agency.

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Open Response to: “How Technology Is Like Bug Sex”

bees

Open response to this article: “How Technology Is Like Bug Sex”

Dear Nir,

“An insect infestation of scampering masses.”  What a harsh visual. Not just visual, I’m now itching all over. Is that really what we compare with?

Consider that the constant craving for this supernormal stimuli ‘novelty’ is what drives us as a species to accomplish everything we do. It drives us to push everything to the limit, only to discover new boundaries that need pushing. Without it, the pyramids and the Eiffel tower would have never been built; The greatest works of art would have never been commissioned; The light bulb, TV, radio, ‘horseless carriage’, and recording of sound and later video would have never been invented; The Wright brothers would never have thought they could get passengers to pay to fly, they would have never envisioned that flying could become a successful business. They would never have reached that ground-breaking milestone of the first powered, controlled, manned flight on that gloomy day on the beach at Kitty Hawk, Dec 17th 1903.

Consider the sense of community that stems from the novelty of social media. Doesn’t it give you the warm and fuzzy, to see that you have almost 6K followers on Twitter? That’s a virtual infestation, not a physical one, but an infestation nonetheless.  Bugs are disgusting to most of us, do your Twitter followers disgust you? I think not. You want them, you need them, having them is a novelty that you might be getting used to, but you still want and need.

Where you look from above and see an insect infestation, I see something more: excitement of thinking beings at gadgets to marvel upon, appreciation, admiration, gratitude. I’ve heard in the last few years this said multiple times: “I’m so in love with my smartphone!” I feel the same, and it’s not just novelty, the feeling is here to stay. This particular novelty changes lives, I know it contributed to changing mine. From spending most of my time inside my own head, I’m now always connected, and it’s something that was missing before, because I don’t spend much recreational time with a desktop. I also see the pride of those who envisioned and created these gadgets, and dreamed of awesome profits. If what they are doing is harmful to the environment, we should place responsibility with them to take care of it, and find solutions for recycling, as we already do. That doesn’t mean putting breaks on pushing the limits.

Technology development should keep forging ahead. Maybe we are just experiencing a bit of a ‘Future Shock’. Let’s hope it will pass.

CES 2013

Crowds marvel at gadgets, Consumer Electronics Show 2013, Las Vegas
Source: adafruit.com

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1+1=10. Why Should High School Grads Know What That Means?

I showed the ‘About the Author’ page of this blog to high-school grads. They thought the equation 1+1=10 is a typo. If you also think it’s a typo, be advised it isn’t. And not knowing this is not your fault.

In simplest termbinary t-shirts, it represents the idea of counting in 2’s, instead of counting in 10’s. When you count in 10’s, you use the digits 0-9. When you count in 2’s, you only use the digits 0 and 1. So the number 2 is represented by ’10’. The number 3 is represented by ’11’. The number 4 is ‘100’. And so on. Deep down inside, computers only know how to count in 2’s.  0= no electricity= power off.  1= there is electricity= power on. This is called a binary number system.  This explains this T-shirt [10 types of people].

The entire world of math that we know is built on the decimal system (10), or on a system of 6,12,60 (seconds, minutes, hours, inches, feet, degrees in geometry). In addition, numbers can represent letters, so it is possible to represent the entire world with numbers.

That’s whThe Matrixat computers do, only their world is built on 1’s and 0’s, and nothing more. It is a simple, but genius idea. To understand how everything is built on top of that you need to read a bit about the history of computers (check wikipedia), I won’t get into that here. In essence, that’s why The Matrix appears to Neo and Agent Smith as 1’s and 0’s, because they are the only ones who can see their world for what it really is – a computer simulation.

In every subject that has been deemed by the education system important to make you a rounded, wholly educated person, you learn the basics. In music classes students learn the notes. Music is usually an elective, but it’s hard to find kids who don’t know what the notes are. In literature classes they learn about the common types of writing like Haiku poems, novels, responses, etc. Numbers they know well before they start with math. In PE classes they learn to name the muscles. In social studies and history class they learn about ancient civilizations. In science they learn about electricity, TVs, light bulbs, and atoms. This is the way it is in the US, and in many other countries. Even when you learn to drive, they teach you about the engine components.

iPhoneSo, why in a society where computers are so prevailing, it is not important to learn about computers? Why should kids not know how they work? I think it is ok for 5 year olds to play games on a computer or an iPhone, without knowing how the magic was created. But it is not ok to graduate high school and college without a glimpse into the genius that created the most compelling tool in your life.Starship by Brian Aldiss

Science fiction writers have warned use about what will happen if we don’t keep track of the building blocks of the past. In Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” series people forgot where Earth is. In Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop (or Starship) people forgot they are on a multi-generation starship, and they think their world is a jungle.

Asimove-end-of-eternity

Isaac Asimov’s “The End of Eternity”, is about a technician responsible for the maintenance of a ‘time elevator’, used by a small group of scientists. Many ‘floors’ are locked to prevent time paradoxes. The technician ventures out to the far future, and finds beautiful, perfect humans, but very few of them. Machines maintain the beautiful, empty cities, but they eventually stop and no one knows how they work and how they should be repaired. In fact, there are multiple stories about the far future describing deserted places with automation that breaks down, and no one knows how to repair it.

But sci-fi predictions in this case, are not a compelling reason to teach this in school. The compelling reason is what known educators around the world have been preaching for years. Creativity. That’s the reason. See this number 1 (of all time) Ted Talk, Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity (2006):

command-lineYou don’t necessarily get creative when you learn how to click File / Print to print your document, in a computers class in elementary school, where they teach you how to use MS Word. But there’s a chance you’ll get creative, when you understand how computer languages were invented, when you understand the brilliance of the change from ‘command line’ to ‘graphical user interface’, and when you understand the magic of the ‘mouse’, the Internet, and ‘wi-fi’.

Opening the mind to a new world – is why. Creativity – is why.

Laptop Storm

Credit: TBD Telecom By Design Inc.

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