Sunday, 16 December 2012

Time to grow up and stop killing each other America.

While the USA does not have a monopoly on mass murder, it does, as a nation have its head buried deeply in the sand and refuses to tackle the problem. 
A lot of Americans believe in various innate rules, rights and responsibilities these manifest themselves in books like the bible and in the beliefs of the "Freemen of the Land". Fail to live up to any of these and you deserve what you get, whether it be a long prison sentence visited on you by the state or a mass killing visited on you by god.
The American saying "Kill them all and let god sort them out" absolves the killers of any responsibility as those that were killed and where good will bask in a heavenly afterlife and those that were bad will be punished. Life is just preparation for the examination that comes when you are dead. It allows not only barbarism against your neighbours but against people all over the world. It is the trap that Al Qaeda has fallen into, it is the trap of rules defining good and bad, it's the trap of subservience and thoughtlessness. It is the trap of the party that believes in the golden age of the past.
The post life examination is about whether you followed the rules correctly no matter how screwed up they seemed to you. You are absolved of any and all responsibility to do right.
The US constitution is great in many ways brief, succinct and eloquent it is not however perfect and the people who created it knew this and put within it a mechanism by which it could be changed. They put it in for several reasons and in doing so admitted that they could be wrong and that times would change. When it comes to weaponry they have changed dramatically from the mussel loader to the Uzi, from when guns were expensive, as was lead and powder to now when they are cheap. These mass shootings by one or two people simply were not possible in 1777. If they had of been they would have happened.
The Americans are cursed by their addiction to rules and that addiction is lead by religion, a religion that the writers of the constitution did not share. So here is a thought Americans, use the rule that allows you to change the rules, live up to your responsibilities, be the true heirs of the giants who wrote the constitution, stand on their shoulders and see further. Stop hiding behind the rules.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

How to Embarrass an Ex.

For anyone who reads this blog who's mother "knew" the author, my one bit of advised for looking for fashion faux pas would be to have a look at Uncle Mark's Wedding photos, from September 1985, in case he has had more than 1.
Your mother is the one next to the place where your Dad's head has been crudely pasted  on.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What the driver-less car means for windscreen washer salesmen.

The development of the driver-less car and presumably other vehicles is coming along apace. Though very little thought seems to have been given to what the consequences will be.
In the long term there is going to be a complete end to the HGV driving business the only reason to carry someone on a delivery vehicle will be to help load or unload.
I imagine though that seat belt will stop being mandatory after a while and if you don't need to watch where you're going  why have a windscreen or sit confined in two rows. You family conveyance will become a drawing room on wheels capable of transporting you anywhere in the habitable world and even Canada.
For a holiday just hire a unit which drives to pick you up when everyone is home on the Friday night. You load it up and then sit down a watch TV in it while it drives you down the road and gets it loaded onto a train, where you're whisked through the night at 200+mph to a warmer/colder/historic part of the world, where it offloads itself in the small hours and drives to your holiday site, so when you wake up on Saturday morning you are there. The train will not have needed a driver and will need even less brains than a car and be able to use lines at a far higher density than today's trains. Splinting and joining at speed to make the most efficient journey possible.
The shape of cars will change quite radically and be as different from the today's cars as  the Model T is, there need by no front or back, aerodynamic sleekness will be the ruling factor.
Why even own a car? A journey for one can be called for an a 1 person vehicle drive itself to your door. It will not mean waiting for a driver to finish his lunch or even walk out to the car, the vehicle will have parked it self up where the hire system predicts there will be a need for a car soon.
The roads would have no parked cars lining the street as they would only turn up and stop for the briefest periods to pick people up and drop them off. There will be far less street furniture, no speed signs, stop signs or traffic lights.
For those that insist on driving the older cars a small unit can be attached to the vehicle and give in cab signals to the driver or by using an augmented reality headset place synthetic road signs in the correct places.
It would be hard on traffic wardens, windscreen washers and Hollywood film directors, who would have to find new dramatic devices. Taking a car on a reckless drive across town would involve hacking into the car's systems and you would have to bring your own steering wheel.
A world where cars trains and planes guide them selves will be a quieter more economical, more efficient world with greater convenience and less intrusion from transport but with less hardware tied up in the system. It will be a world in which the average speed of travel is higher than today but the peek speed lower, as the predictabilities of the system keep everything moving at the best speed.
I for one will be acquiring a self driving bed room, where I can go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning a convenient distance from the office.
Whoever it will still be a world in which somehow Feu Orange  car fresheners are still made and installed but no one knows where or who by.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Sailing the Quantum Sea on a silicon wafer.

 The voyager has finally poked its nose into interstellar space having finally pierced the Helio sheath it not quite out of the Solar system yet but it is out of the sun's atmosphere and it's electromagnetic influence the probe is still affected by the sun's gravity which stretches out at least as far as the Oort cloud.

It is a contender for man's greatest achievement, to date, the process which led to Voyager 1 started with the harnessing of fire, works through the Bronze and Iron age

The major obstacle to going on for longer is the Radio Thermal Generators, that power current probes. The current generation use Plutonium Oxide, with a change of source it may be possible to increase the life span from 25 years to a couple of hundred or more, that isn't going to get a probe to the stars or even to the Oort cloud. The features of interstellar space are vast in may be the other than the frozen rocks no meaning full science will left to be done to the atmosphere of another star is reached.

A vehicle that is going to make a sensible dent on deep space investigation is going to either have to live a long time or go very very fast. The current fastest object sent out from the sun is New Horizons which is on its way to Pluto and beyond, after its last engine burn it was at 58,536 km/h (36,373 mph) the nearest star is 39,900,000,000,000 KM away. That is 681631816 hours or 77761 years. So something launched in 77549 BC would be getting there about now. At that time Moden Humans had been around about 13,000 years and had migrated as far as Indian perhaps a bit further but not Europe or the Americas. This is the time of the Toba event, which nearly wiped out humanity. It was a very very very long time ago to travel a cosmologically insignificant distance.

To get the journey down to something a probe could do in 1000 years we means to go 70 times quicker. That is 4097520 km/h and assuming you can reach that speed very quickly but at 1g acceleration it would take, 116142 seconds or 1.34 days. Doesn't seem to bad till you realize that requires an enormous amount of energy and by any known method of propulsion an awful lot of reaction mass to throw away.

That is still 1000 years which isn't a practicable time scale, but if we cannot do better, then it maybe what we have to try. Though if we can accelerate for over a day at 1g, it likely we could keep on accelerating for the entire journey. We would quite quickly get into the speed region where relativistic affects begin to have a serious effect. The most obvious effect would be the that the probe would never reach the speed of light, the other that the subject time for the probe would be reduced meaning that what looked like a 5 year journey looking from Earth would appear to be a much shorter journey for the crew.

The closest star is Proxima Centauri at 4.24 Light years and assuming the probe was going to stop there rather than fly through the journey would take about 7 years viewed from earth whilst the probe would only experience just over 3.6 years. That based on numbers I got from The Relativistic Rocket which shows the calculation, which are considerably simpler than you might imagine.

However, as the site notes, to use a rocket to provide such an acceleration is in practice impossible. There are however several possibilities which do not involve any fanciful Physics. I'm not saying they are possible but nothing in current physics rules them out.

There are lots of different techniques which have been seriously looking at by NASA in its Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program
Most of these explore some fairly radical physics ideas, which cannot be actively ruled out at the moment.  Some of them allow the speed of light to be bypassed as is done in Star Trek with a Warp drive, others just allow for constant acceleration in one case using a chunk of matter with negative mass.

For the more conservative system the speed of light is going to be the limit but we have already run robotic missions far longer then is needed to get to the nearest star if 1g can be achieved. Even within a single human lifetime it should be possible due to the time dilation effect to dispatch colony ships. Were some of the original crew will still be alive on arrival, even if their peers who stayed at home will not.

Failing all these it's going to be a very slow slog out to the start using generation ships, which is going to be very big, IMHO an asteroid of any size would be the base on which the ship was built. The nightmare for such colonists is to set off on a long journey only to arrive and find that a new technology was invented after they left, which allowed a faster journey and their target already has a colony, though it might be possible to call at the first ship on the way break the bad news to them and shuttle them to the target or improve their drive. May save a lot of time if they have already gone a significant way with significant resources. Though why tell them why not just be the first space pirates?

The one thing that we can be sue will not work is cryogenics, it will never be cold enough to stop the gradual breakdown of chemicals after a prolonged time the stored system will break down. The next possible would be to take copies of our genome and grow new bodies at the far end then implant them with stored copies of our minds, that would take only two new technologies. We could simplify it by producing babies and letting humanoid robots raise them this would mean storing all the data digitally where it can be copied and rewritten to stop it decaying and while it is currently not possible to build a custom genome and an egg from the component chemicals or grow that egg to a kind of birth, it is a technology we are starting to work towards for other purposes. Such as preserving endangered species. When can even take a very large chunk of Earth's biota with us.

We are still going to need a power supply to keep that digital data in tact but here the random Quantum noise that would play havoc with stored biology may come to our aid with the Casimir Effect which can produce energy from the quantum vacuum and may be one source of propulsion.

If we have to do it this way, which is the best candidate at the moment, it is going to take a very long time to get to the nearest start and the distance across our galaxy is 25,000 times as great so that is a long time multiplies by a big number, in other words a long long long time. That is just across our galaxy our nearest neighbour is about 25  times further than that and we are still only next door. Some of the lower estimates for the number of galaxies in our universe is 125,000,000,000 even Star Trek never planned on getting to the next galaxy.

It is a big big universe and the reason nobody has come to say "hello", does not that there aren't millions of intelligent species in this galaxy alone, the chances is are they are a long way away