Archive for August 2007

I Believe

August 31, 2007

1) There is no other intelligent life in the galaxy. In the entire universe? I’m not so sure.

2) China is about to have an agricultural revolution, as is India. When that happens the earth’s population will (more than) double, and the planet will be underpopulated, perhaps severely underpopulated. Before China’s agricultural revolution is completed, it will begin its industrial revolution, whereby worldwide manufacturing capability will be so close to Star Trek’s replicator ideal, the difference will be ignorable. By that time (say, in 50 years), the 1st world (if only the US) will be past the technological revolution and well into the next, which I think will be a biological revolution, characterized by extremely long lifetimes attainable for human beings. This will be different from Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity, in that we won’t be anything like “cyborgs” with a “higher” consciousness and we won’t be merged with machines (although prosthetics will be very advanced) and that’s because the true nature of consciousness and the true difference between living and non-living things is not at all understood by science. Neither of those are emergent properties, I believe, and right now, scientists will believe nothing else.

3) Physics is dead, not in the sense of it having come close to solving everything, but in the sense of having reached the limits imposed upon it by its language, mathematics. Mathematics is not sufficient to describe the entire universe, which is what physics pretends to do. It’s not even capable of completely describing the physical universe, which is what physicists will admit to be trying to do.

4) Although the history of civilization seems to be the history of ever larger, ever more powerful organizational structures, nations will not be subsumed into larger entities. The EU will fail, the UN is a joke and NAFTA (and CAFTA) aren’t even pretending to acquire power. In fact, tribalism is more than making a comeback in Africa and the mid-east. If nations fail, then tribes will take their place unless they are countered by organized religion. Right now the mid-east is a dangerous place because instead of countering tribalism, organized religion is aiding and abetting it.

5) Record companies are dead, and will probably transmogrify into agencies for musical talent. TV networks aren’t dead, but will transmogrify anyway into something that’s far more interactive. It won’t be the interactivity of the net, where the “audience” and “performer” communicate directly, but the interactivity of the network (supplier of entertainment) with the audience (consumer of entertainment).

6) Two words – personal factories. Okay, three. Personal *Virtual* factories. That’s not a new idea – I think it comes from Toffler’s Third Wave.

7) Universities are dead institutions, but don’t know it (yet). This is already demonstrated in the flight of white males from it’s hallowed halls. They are (barely) trade schools that merely train freshmen for jobs that are obsolete by the time the degree is awarded. They can’t be repaired or replaced because we don’t even know what an educated man is anymore.

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Shufflin’ Off

August 31, 2007

The AstroWife and I will be on vacation for the week following Labor Day, relaxing (hopefully), and enjoying the company of my parents and some of my siblings. Maybe we’ll get in some gambling in Canada. Since I don’t intend to foist the 21st century on my sleep little hometown, blogging will be non-existent. We’ll survive.

In the meantime, enjoy the news from Mars at The Planetary Society, Rand Simberg’s unique blend of space-science and politics at Transterresstrial.com, Matthew Hoy’s underrated blog, and now that she’s feeling better, some undiluted common sense from The Anchoress.

Oh, and seriously consider putting Linux on your computer-box too, while you’re at it.

A Test For Relativity

August 24, 2007

There are currently two (count ’em, two) pillars of physics that have withstood all the tests to which they’ve been put; quantum mechanics and relativity. This is something akin to the position physics was in just before the beginning of the 20th century, when it was said (and I paraphrase) “physics is almost completely understood. There’s just one or two little things left to be explained about the hydrogen spectrum…”

Now, understand; there’s a couple of pretty odd and maybe wonderful ideas floating around that are very popular in physics right now, not least of which is string theory (and also dark matter/dark energy in astronomy). These ideas may or may not pan out, and in fact, in the case of string theory, the hot debate is whether it possible, even in theory, to test it.

Relativity, though, has already past many tests, some of remarkable precision. If you can perform an experiment that shows a result in disagreement with Einstein, then you most certainly will win a Nobel Prize.

Yet here is one such experiment. Maybe.

The MAGIC gamma-ray telescope team has just released an eye-popping preprint (following up earlier work) describing a search for an observational hint of quantum gravity. What they’ve seen is that higher-energy gamma rays from an extragalactic flare arrive later than lower-energy ones. Is this because they travel through space a little bit slower, contrary to one of the postulates underlying Einstein’s special theory of relativity — namely, that radiation travels through the vacuum at the same speed no matter what?

It’s not a done deal, yet. There are many possible ways in which the higher energy gamma rays might have been created after the lower energy ones, which would mean relativity, as we know it, is safe. But if none of these mechanisms can be shown to be in operation (bit if), then this is a big deal.

How to Win Friends… or Not

August 22, 2007

What did Jonah do to deserve this?

Well, not much – nothing specific, anyway. His latest in the LA Times is pretty innocuous. He did say this, however:

Feh. “Web 2.0” is a nothing but a buzz phrase designed to make money for people who use phrases like “Web 2.0.” There’s no disputing that liberals have taken the lead on the Web in recent years. Sites such as Daily Kos and Moveon.org have become formidable clearinghouses for activism and fundraising. As a result, every Democratic presidential candidate kowtows to the netroots crowd. It’s also true that the Republican National Committee and conservative activists are playing catch-up.

And apparently, that was enough. In his 2400 word (about 5 page) screed, I don’t think this pseudonymous “Hunter” pointed to any one thing to support his argument (such as it is), but instead resorted to one, incredibly long ad-hominum. But I’m not 100% sure about that because he put me to sleep before I got to the end. Boring.

And of course, the kos-kids once again did their fine impressions of mindless robots and joined in on the fun, stupidly turning their wrath on Goldberg’s mother and daughter.

Oh yeah – these are our elites. Sure they are.

On Reading

August 22, 2007

Drudge links to Breitbart, in an article that essentially says that Americans are ignorant (in this case, about politics). Former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder goes a little further and implies that conservatives are un-read.

Um… like we have the time to read more???

Not me, anyway. Every moment I spend reading for pleasure takes away from 1) time spent with the AstroWife, 2) my job 3) my catz 4) my music (which as already dwindled down to nothin’) 5) my astronomy (ditto) and… you get the idea. To get me to read (more – I insist that you count blogs as “reading”) it’s going to take an awfully good book.

I do go to bookstores, however, quite often. The usual result is that I buy nothing, or I by a (singular, one, not plural) technical book (mostly ’cause they’re outrageously over priced). Sometimes I’m tempted to buy a non-fiction (history or political) book and mostly I’ll read those (even if it takes me a year). Like most people, I’m not tempted to buy “vanity” books or anything allegedly written by a pop-tart or politician or president wannabe, and (like most men) I wouldn’t consider buying anything resembling a romance novel. I used to buy (and read) a fair number of books from the sci-fi/fantasy gendre but to be honest, I’m not tempted by those much any more. The last one I read (sequels to Rendezvous with Rama, by Pournelle et. al.) was – disappointing. That’s probably because Pournelle didn’t have much to do with the writing. Pity. He used to be good. Of course, he got a big push when he wrote Lucifer’s Hammer for^h^! h^h with Larry Niven and let him take most of the credit…

My answer to the question “Why aren’t adults reading more?” is then two fold. 1) Who’s got the time? and 2) Gimme something worth reading.
And by the way, who’s not reading? Me and my cohorts are reading tons, when measured in bits and bytes. If the questioner really asking about the number of books (as in pulp paper and bindings), then why is the tennor of the article implying that this is a catastrophe in the making? I mean, did music come to a screetching halt because of edison disks? Or did it take the creation of 78 rpm platters to do that?

No, reading isn’t dying, and Americans are not reading less (if anything, my experience informs me that they’re reading more). It’s books (and publishing) that’s in trouble.

On Dark Matter(s)

August 18, 2007

No, this is not another post on Catholicism, but an astronomy post.

One of the more interesting developments in astronomy over the past 25 years or so has been the mounting evidence of the existence of dark matter – stuff that interacts with normal stuff just like normal stuff does, gravitationally speaking. It’s otherwise just very hard to detect. Oh, that’s not quite right. Back when I was a student it was a common joke to note that the universe could be filled with basketballs and astronomers would have almost no way to detect them, ever. Basketball stars were the in thing. What’s been really surprising is how much of it needs to be there to match the observations.

Since the ’90s (and HST), dark matter has been a generally accepted concept and almost an article of faith. Yet here’s a report that (more than) hints we don’t know what’s going on very well.

The gist is that dark matter and normal matter are supposed to interact in well understood ways. Yet here is an example (and also, a report of another) where they just aren’t.

That’ll put a crimp in your theory!

To Coin A Phrase

August 18, 2007

I might be the first to say it.
The opposite of diversity is unity.

Then again, maybe I’m not the first.