Entries Tagged as 'Science'

Your Kid Can Still Dream of Being an Astronaut!

“My kid said he wanted to be an astronaut” there goes that dream!” space evangelist Tim Bailey overheard that statement while standing in line to pick up tickets for a planned (but canceled) space shuttle launch at Kennedy Space Center earlier this year. The speaker went on “Unless maybe he learns to speak Russian.” What made these sentements even more depressing to hear was that they came from a member of the media covering the event.

Tim, always a fast thinker, pointed out to the reporter that NASA was at that very moment holding a press conference awarding contracts to US commercial providers to create a new fleet of space vehicles. But if this is this the way most of the press is thinking and reporting “that there is no future for space flight, and America is only dreaming” what hope does the prospect of manned space exploration have for our children? Is the dream really dead? Will astronauts become nothing more than the stuff of legend, like cowboys and knights in shining armor? I don’t think so.

By the time you read this, the last space shuttle — Atlantis — will have launched, marking the end of the US Space Shuttle program and the end of an era in manned US space exploration. There are a lot of people who are decrying this as the end of the United States dominance in space exploration. Maybe, maybe not, but it really depends on how you define dominance. There’s little argument that NASA has achieved some astonishing and wondrous things — both with manned and unmanned craft — but NASA is best when it is pushing the boundaries of space exploration and science, and NASA will dominate that arena for the foreseeable future.

If you look at the history of human exploration, however, you will quickly realize that many of the great “discoverers” were private individuals who may have been government sponsored, but not a part of the government itself, and many where completely private ventures. Consider Christopher Columbus. He was a Genoan flying under the flag of Spain, but only because King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were footing the bill.

There are a few notable exceptions to this, but it’s generally people in the private sector who move quickly into undiscovered (or recently discovered) territory, but only if there is the hope of profit. The future of your child’s dreams of becoming an astronaut (or cosmonaut or taikonaut) are less likely to reside with the fate of any particular state or governemt, but instead with humanity’s ability to find out-of-this-world commercial opportunities.

There have been close to 550 individuals trained as astronauts, but until 2004 anyone going into space had their training sponsored by a government. That changed with the launch of SpaceShipOne, the first wholly private venture into space. Virgin Galactic is building on the success of SpaceShipOne, planing to launch its first commercial space flights for adventurous sight-seeres.

Virgin Galactic is now taking reservations at $200K a pop for a trip 70 miles straight up — you can download the brochure here. Although the exact length of the trip is unclear, you and five other passengers get to float above the earth, looking down on the world where, as Carl Sagan so eloquently put it, “everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”

Still, taking a quick and expensive picnic into space is not the same thing as working and living in space. The dream of being an astronaut is about a profession, not a hobby. So that’s where those commercial contracts Tim was telling the reporter about are important. NASA has awarded four contracts for commercial crew development. This is what NASA should also be doing: encouraging the private sector to take on the more day-to-day aspects of space travel, while they push the frontiers. According to the NASA press release:

Each company will receive between $22 million and $92.3 million to advance commercial crew space transportation system concepts and mature the design and development of elements of their systems, such as launch vehicles and spacecraft.

OK, so that isn’t exactly Buck Rogers, but it’s an important start. We may be in a slight lull between epochs of manned space exploration, but a new paradigm will emerge, where we go into space, not just because “it’s there,” but because of what is there. NASA is constantly discovering resources that are hard or impossible to find on the Earth. That’s where your kids can still dream of being an astronaut — aboard missions with a purpose. Not just to go there, but to go there, do something, bring something back, and sell it. What will eventually drive our children into space is not just the desire for discovery, but also the promise of profit.

The Doctor Looks Great in Anime

The Doctor is no stranger to animation. Even before the current reboot, for the 40th anniversary of the show the BBC released a six part animated series in 2003 called Scream of the Shelka, using a Ninth Doctor who is not a part of the official continuity. More recently, the Tenth Doctor has appeared in his own animated episodes — although the CGI animation is a bit stiff. There are also some fan attempts to animate all of the missing episodes of Doctor Who that were destroyed by the BBC.

One project in particular that has been getting attention over the past few years as short clips have been released is this Japanese Anime-inspired fan created movie. It was created by UK amateur animator Paul “Oatking” Johnson, who (according to his YouTube bio)…

…lives, breathes and sleeps classic 80s and 90s anime, back when it was still good. He also sings, animates, translates and writes about himself in the third person.

I’ve been watching the development of this video over the four years it has taken Paul to complete his twelve minute and thirty second masterpiece. There are Cybermen and Daleks and Sontarins (oh my!) going up against the Third Doctor (“The Dandy”, played in the original live action series by the late Jon Pertwee). Most of the voices are a pastiche of clips from previous episodes, with Paul and a few friends providing additional voices.

Although it’s a bit rough and the story is somewhat disjointed, if the BBC is smart, they’ll hire this guy and start an animated adventures series.

Okay, enough words. Enjoy the movie:

Update

The video will not play anymore, because the creator is now under contract to do work for the BBC (WOOT!) Here’s the explination from his Deviant Art page:

I am now contracted to work with Theta-Sigma, in partnership with Big Finish, on some secret BBC animation projects for 2entertain. This is very exciting news and, though I can’t say anything about it, there is an absolutely top class team assembled, and the recreation of some extremely long awaited lost stories is now going to become a reality for a very large number of people who’ve been waiting for them for many, many years.

Originally Published on GeekDad»

50 Years of Americans in Space: Remembering Alan Shepard

Originally published in GeekDad»

Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7 before launch

Alan Shepard aboard Freedom 7 before launch

Alan Shepard, was close, so, close — he ventured into space 50 years ago today, the first American in space, but a little less than a month too late to be the first human being in space. That honor went to the Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

As the saying goes, “Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.” Still, it’s important to remember the achievement of America’s first man in space on May 5, 1961 on board the Freedom 7 — an achievement that would eventually lead to the first moon landing. It’s debatable which was the more significant accomplishment (first person in space or first person on the Moon), but no one can argue with the bravery or pioneering spirit of all any of the Astronauts and Cosmonauts risking their lives to take those first steps away from Mother Earth.
For Shepard, this was the culmination of years of rigorous training and a selection process that chose him from amongst the hundreds of other test pilots vying for the distinction to be chosen as one of those with the “right stuff.”
The countdown for the Freedom 7 flight started at 8:30PM the night before, but Shepard did not enter the capsule until 5:15 AM on May 5th, 2 hours before the “planned” take off time, but the lift off would not happen until 9:20 AM. This was the period when Shepard is supposed to have coined what would become know as Shepard’s Prayer “Dear Lord, please don’t let me f--- up”, although Shepard claims the exact words to be “Don’t f--- up, Shepard…” (Do I see a possible orthodoxy war in the far future between Shepard Fundamentalist and Reformist sects?).

MOON SHOT: The Inside Story of America’s Apollo Moon Landing by Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton, Updated by Jay Barbree
With an estimated 45 million people watching him on TV in the United States, he lifted off from Cape Canaveral. Shepard did not achieve orbit as Gagarin did, but he did control his own ship whereas Gagarin was basically just a passenger along on an automated ride. Shepard was able to position his ship, practicing different maneuvers, before finally splash-landing in the Atlantic ocean having traveled 302 miles in just over 15 minutes.
It’s also important to remember Shepard’s other great accomplishment: Besides being the first American in space, Shepard was also the fifth man to walk on the moon, clocking the longest moon walk and also becoming the first (and, as far we know, only) human to play golf on another world.
Before he died in 1998, he and fellow Mercury Astronaut Deke Slayton (who served as Director of Flight Crew Operations throughout the Apollo program) recorded their first-hand experiences in the book MOON SHOT: The Inside Story of America’s Apollo Moon Landing, which is being re-released as an enhanced ebook for the 50th anniversary of his momentous journey. The new version has been updated by noted journalist Jay Barbree, who has covered every American space flight. In the new edition, Barbree includes never-before known or told stories of Apollo missions, embedded video, and Barbree’s thoughts on the state of the American space program today.
Below, you can enjoy the commemorative video NASA has put together to celebrate the occasion.

David Edwards Is Out of the Lab to Find Art in Science

There is a lot of lip-service given these days to the importance of innovation in our society. You often hear that we live in an “innovation economy,” or that we can innovate our way out of a crisis— implying that innovation is something that spontaneously happens with little or no effort. True innovation rarely comes so simply. It is most often the result of the intersecting of two or more seemingly separate and often disparate ideas (you got your chocolate in my peanut butter). We may be banking our future on innovation, but our educational system is not set up around innovation. No, you can’t teach innovation, but you can foster an environment of innovation while learning. Instead, disciplines are taught in independent silos called “classes” with little or no overlap.

David Edwards wants to change that. In his recent book The Lab, David explores the frontiers of learning to promote the theory that innovation comes when we worry less about the scientific “disciplines” involved and more about the desired outcome. In other words, figure out what you need to do and then what scientific tools you need to bring to bear on the problem to solve it.
David has a history of combining art and science in new ways both as a teacher at Harvard University and as founder and director of Le Laboratoire in Paris, France. For example, one of the most striking examples he gives is how he and a class of his solved the problem of being able to quickly and cleanly transport water for people in areas without running water. To create the device — called “The Pumpkin” — David and his students at Harvard combined biology and engineering to create a device inspired by the way in which living cells transport water.
A few other of his innovations include:

  • La Whaf — A way of “eating” by inhaling liquid droplets
  • La Whif — Breathable chocolate, coffee, and even vitamins.
  • Andrea — A system that uses plants to clean indoor air.

I had a chance to talk with David through email and ask him about education, art, science, and raising kids.
GeekDad: Science and art — like science and religion — are popularly shown as being at odds and incompatible— truth can’t be beautiful — but in your book, The Lab, you argue that laboratories have to erase “conventional boundaries between art and science.” Why are those boundaries a problem?

David Edwards: Obviously we value a work of art, a MET performance of The Nose of Shostakovich, very differently than we value a work of science, like the discovery of the latest Mersenne Prime, as valuable works of the human mind art and science appeal for different reasons. What interests me in the context of laboratories, a general term I give to environments that “curate” the creative process, is less, however, the “works” of art and science than the creative processes by which we get them, the one being aesthetic, comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, guided by images, true in that it is inalienable in some way from the human condition — the other being scientific, analytical, guided by equations, able to simplify a complex world to problems that can be solved, true in that it is reproducible.
GD: What would a world be like where the boundaries did not exist?
DE: These two processes, “art” in the sense that we imagine how Beethoven “lived” and thought and “science” in the sense that we imagine how Einstein “lived” and thought, actually merge in the creative process, and that fascinates me. In the process of discovery, whether with purely artistic, scientific, or some other ends, discoverers — how I think of creators — dream, and analyze, induce and deduce, are comfortable with uncertainty and are capable of reducing a complex world to resolvable problems and meaningful solutions. Creative lives are like this.

GD: So, what’s happening to the creatives in our society?
DE: With the specialization of knowledge, we now teach, learn, and perform within environments that are specialized to promote dreaming, or to promote analysis, or to promote questioning, or to promote solutions, but these environments are murderous to creative thought, a good reason why the most creative minds often flee institutional environments.
GD: Is the Internet helping to dissolve these boundaries?
DE: Perhaps largely as a result of the Internet Revolution, the “information providing” value of institutions has suddenly been overrun by the “innovation providing” value of institutions. And our institutions remain too focused on the old value model. The boundaries between art and science, as processes of creative thought, become a major obstacle to institutions and society adapting to the conditions of the 21st century. Remove these barriers and the anxiety many now feel facing a future that is so full of uncertainty will be replaced by the freedom a creator feels in a world where dreams can matter.

GD: How long do you think it will take our current mindset about creativity to change?
DE: I think it is indeed a transition that is taking place with the generation that is growing up today. We look at the young today and are shocked by what often seems to be an attention deficit problem. One thing however that strikes me in teaching at Harvard University is how young people, who have grown up surfing the Internet, moving in a matter of seconds from “recombinant RNA” to “Jackson Pollack,” don’t feel the same knowledge restrictions previous generations grew up with, actually recognize, experimentally, the great value of leaping from one culture to the next, feeling your way forward in innocence, discovering.
GD: Many seem to despair a culture where the novice and uninformed have the same access to many-to-many communication as the professional and studied. Do you see this as a problem, and how do you think we are dealing with it?
DE: I actually think that in the world we live in today we find the sources of information, the communities, which suit us, and, yes, I do agree that disastrously uninformed souls can influence millions, billions probably, but I’m not sure that the elite, the most educated and informed, ever had much more influence on human affairs than they do today. What has really changed is that we all, as individuals, have tremendously more outreach than we did. What we say – and do – is amplified. But the elite have always dialogued with the elite. What to do? Making innocence an asset, as it is for an infant, who learns so quickly, may be a goal, and guiding the elite toward more creating, along with the observing, might be another. I keep coming back to the contemporary power of the creative mind.

GD: For some, inventing new ways to carry water may seem like re-inventing the wheel, but you led a class that did just that over nachos and salsa at the Border Café in Harvard Square (I have to admit, I always found their Margaritas to be an excellent creative lubricant when I visited Boston). How did you bring science and design together to build a better, safer way to move water around?
DE: Getting drinkable water from its source to those in need of it without wasting it is a growing problem, of course. In biology the canonical transporter of water is the biological cell. We thought a few years ago that we might be able to learn from the cell to carry water more efficiently. This led eventually to an object that we’re making right now called The Pumpkin, because it sort of resembles a pumpkin when it is all curled up. The Pumpkin is, in one form, an interesting hand bag that doubles as a thermos. You can pull your lunch out of it like you can drink from it. But it also can expand in size, and carry increasing volumes of water, so that you can carry 10 or more liters of water strapped around your shoulder, or around your neck and torso. In developing world environments or disaster relief situations where water transport is a major challenge and head transport often occurs, The Pumpkin is designed to get lots of water safely to where it needs to go without messing up the neck and spinal cord, without making you drag something over tough terrain. Anyway the biological cell is a little like this — a lunch box that expands to carry lots of water or a little, depending on what you need.
GD: How have you been able to apply your own view of creativity to raising your children? Do you ever experiment ideas on them?
DE: My children — and I talk about them in my book — teach me more about creativity than I do them, I’m sure. If anything I may feel more peace than some in watching my three little boys learn in the rough and tumble way they learn. Yes, they were the first kids in the world who “whiffed” chocolate, the first kids probably who “ate bottles.” Since they are growing up in a very formal French school, I suppose having the father who comes home with Le Whif has marked them especially, hopefully an immunization against the worst outcome of a very fine if rigid educational system.

 Originally published in Wire GeekDad »

Celebrate 50 Years of Human Space Flight on Yuri’s Night

Yuri's Night 50th Anniversary

Yuri’s Night 50th Anniversary

This April will see the 50th anniversary of the most important event in all of human history: the first time any of us left the planet. On April 12, 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin pierced Earth’s thin shell of atmosphere to (literally) boldly go where no one had gone before. Yuri orbited the earth once in the Vostok 1, taking 108 minutes. Admittedly, this is a bit like dipping the tip of your toe into the ocean and considering yourself a great mariner, but many of us hope this event will be remembered as the first day of the migration of humanity to the stars.

That day should be commemorated.

In 2001, for the 40th anniversary of Yuri’s epic flight, the team of Trish Garner, George Whitesides and Loretta Hidalgo established April 12th as Yuri’s Night and began to sponsor a night of parties celebrating human space flight. The idea was simple: establish a Web site where anyone could register their party, letting the rest of the world know that they were celebrating. The Web site also provides some basic information on how to throw a party and where to find parties that are open to the public. Parties can be private or public, sedate or wild, scientific or hedonistic. It’s up to you.

Yuri's Night: San Francisco 2009

Yuri’s Night: San Francisco 2009

Over the decade since it was first established, Yuri’s Night has grown from a few dozen parties a year to over two hundred parties all around the world. Parties range in size from a few dozen people to a few thousand and have been staged on every continent (including Antarctica) and the International Space Station and in Second Life. The largest parties are generally in San Francisco and Washington, DC, but there are always some great events in almost every major city on the planet. Some parties are still on the 12th, but some opt to celebrate on the closest Saturday (this year, the 9th).

The important thing is to celebrate, and now is the time to start planning. Here’s how you can get involved:

Top 10 Things Science Fiction Promised Us That DID Happen in 2010

Total Recall

Total Recall

Earlier this week I published a list of top 10 things science fiction promised us that didn’t happen in 2010. So, lest you think I’m completely negative, let’s take a look at a few things that did happen in 2010 that were predicted in science fiction. The funny thing about progress is that it’s rarely confined to just one year. This list collects some of the important stuff that either happened or reached a tipping point in 2010. They are my favorites, but feel free to share yours in the comments below.

  1. Walk through X-ray airport scanners — Who can forget the classic scene in Total Recall where Ahnuld walks through the scanner at the space port and we get a full x-ray of his body? Well, for some reason, people didn’t think this technology was quite as cool when it was brought to an airport security line near them this year. Maybe it was the the thought that someone in a dark room is looking at virtual nudie pictures of us. Maybe it was the increase in radiation bombarding our bodies. Whatever it was, many want to leave this advance behind in 2010.

  2. Video phones — This one has been possible for a long time, but just never seemed to catch on. Maybe it was the expense or the fact that to use it the other person needed the same equipment, but both of those issues were solved when the personal computer entered into the equation. With the growing popularity of Skype, Google Chat, and the new Apple FaceTime protocol, we’re going to be seeing a whole lot more of each other in 2011.
  3. Alien Life — Admittedly it was not extra-terrestrial alien life, but a complex life form completely unlike our own was discovered this year. Rather than being carbon-based like us (and every other form of life we’ve known so far) this small microbial life form thrives on arsenic. This is a far cry from pointy eared Vulcans or acid drooling bugs, but it means that life seems to have developed twice on one planet greatly increasing the likelihood of ETs. [UPDATE: This one has since been shown to be slightly different than initially thought. The lifeforms thrive in arsenic and use arsenic instead of phosphorus in their DNA but are still carbon based.]

  4. 3D TVs — Well, it’s here. 3D TV. Yippee. And for a mere 4000 or so dollars and another $800 for goggles for the family you too can watch any of the 50 videos Amazon has in 3D. This one still has a ways to go. Of course this catalog will grow over time, and some TV shows may even make the switch, but I still see this as more of a gimmick than a real technological break through. I think a more ground breaking technology is Sharp’s Aquos TV that adds a fourth color (yellow) to the standard red, green, and blue, vastly increasing the color gamut (possible colors that can be displayed) for your screen, meaning sharper and more realistic images.
  5. Big Brother — I remember as a young lad reading George Orwell’s masterwork, 1984, with great fear, but being highly skeptical of the entire concept that the government could spy on all of the people all of the time. That would take an awful lot of people watching. The answer, of course, is to have everybody watching everybody. It may not be exactly what Mr. Orwell predicted, but we are all watching each other these days using the Internet. Whether it’s an old lady in the UK throwing cats into trashcans or the broken condoms of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, we are all now up in each others’ business to an unprecedented degree. And these people are all publicly taken to their own virtual Room 101 to repent their actions.

  6. Telepathy — Got a mobile phone and Bluetooth headset? Then you’re a telepath. Stay with me on this one. Telepathy is the ability to broadcast your thoughts across small or great distances to another persons mind instantaneously, seemingly without using your normal senses. With a wireless headset you can send thoughts (through speech) to anyone in the world almost instantaneously. Implant the headset behind your ears and mic at your throat, learn how to sub-vocalize (speaking with only your throat) and no one around you would hear. For all intents and purposes, telepathy. It makes me wonder if all of the crazy people wondering the streets muttering to themselves aren’t just early adopters.
  7. A Permanent Space Station — Although started in 1998 and not slated for final completion until 2011, 2010 was the first year in which the International Space Station (ISS) was fully crewed with 14 occupants. It may not be the double ringed floating Hilton envisioned in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it still counts.

  8. Tablet Computers — Kirk had them in the 23rd century. Picard had them in the 24th century. Now you can have them in the 21st century. The iPad and other tablet devices are changing the way we will be consuming and creating content. How do I know? I’m typing this article on one.
  9. The Web — Yes, the Web has been around for 20 years now, but 2010 has seen the widespread deployment of some important new technologies that will fundamentally change the way you view the Internet’s most popular offspring. “Web 2.0″ was really just a marketing ploy compared to how HTML5, CSS3, and the new web typography are shaking things up. If you are using Firefox, Chrome, Safari, iOS devices or other tablet devices to view the Web, then you are getting a taste of things to come. Expect the static pages you are viewing now to come alive, transforming The New York Times into something more akin to the The Daily Prophet from Harry Potter.
  10. Cyber Wars — 2010 has already been labeled the Year the Internet Went to War and I can go along with that. The information warfare started by Wiki-leaks blossomed into a fully formed conflict, as sides began DNS attacks both for and against the embattled secret-spilling Web site. These conflicts will only grow in size, but may avoid public attention for a long time, since there is no obvious collateral damage. We’ll probably only find out the true size of these wars when someone brings down a bank or a national power grid. Strange days indeed.

Top 10 Things Science Fiction Promised Us That Didn’t Happen in 2010

The Jetsons

Image © Warner Bros. Animation

Science fiction makes a lot of predictions about the future — that’s really the point, isn’t it? The best science fiction looks at the future, trying to see where we are headed and what it will be like when we get there. Some authors are so good at this it seems as though they actually are able to peer into the future (even if only through a scanner darkly) and tell stories of what is to come. But even the best sci-fi has, over the years, gotten a lot wrong about what was the future when it was written.

2010 is almost over, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at a few things that were supposed to happen (or have happened) by this year, but didn’t.

  1. Flying Cars — This is a popular one to gripe about, but I’ve got bad news for you: it ain’t ever gonna happen. It’s not that flying cars are technically impossible, but they are socially impossible. I have little doubt that if our best and brightest applied themselves to the task, we could mass-produce personal travel devices that would allow us to rise off the ground and zoom through the air just like George Jetson. But imagine a world where the millions of cars on the road are replaced by millions of flying cars, or, should I say, millions of potential flying bombs. Even if we were to create some system that automatically forces cars to avoid buildings, how long before some moron with a beef against a particular government, philosophy, or just against sanity in general hacks that system and heads towards the closest sky scraper in a flying car packed with C4 explosive? No thanks, I’ll stick to the ground.
  2. A Moon Base — We were supposed to have Moon Base Alpha by 1999, or at least by 2001, but for sure by 2010. That didn’t happen. What did happen in 2010 was some unmanned moon landings (deliberate crashes, really) that provided new evidence that it might be technically possible and financially rewarding one-day to establish a permanent (but small) outpost on our lonely satellite. Well, I guess that’s something. The goalpost for a working Moon base has now been pushed all the way to 2069, according to a recent design challenge from Shift Boston. I’ll be 101 years old in 2069, so I just hope we have anti-aging pills soon.
  3. Anti-Aging Pills — Although you can not yet pop a pill and stay 36 forever, the possibility of arresting or reversing aging is looking promising. New advances in unlikely places such as nano-technology are pointing to ways that we might ingest little robots that rebuild our systems from within. But nano-bots are also the bane of a lot of sci-fi stories, turning the world into a mass of gray goo.
  4. Trips to Jupiter — Zooming off to planets far was a staple of 1950s sci-fi. What’s changed in the nearly-50 years since Yuri Gagarin took the first off-planet jaunt is that we learned space is a really inhospitable climate. No air, no water, no heat, no gravity and no magnetosphere leads to dead humans. And recreating all of this in a portable format has proven far more elusive than the dreamers of the golden-age of sci-fi first thought. Even the more realistic versions shown in 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel 2010: Odyssey Two may be centuries away.
  5. Nuclear Holocaust — OK, so it’s a good thing this one didn’t happen, obviously, but when I was a child in the 1970s, it seemed like a high probability. Growing up with the specter of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction, for anyone too young to remember it) looming over you was a way of life that we hoped no one was mad enough to test. The made-for-TV movie The Day After scared the hell out of me when I was a teen. But no one would have guessed in 1980 that by the end of the decade the Soviet Union would no longer exist. The nuclear threat may not have disappeared with it; however, the constant specter of nuclear holocaust has, if not disappeared, at least become less of a daily concern.
  6. Virtual Reality — Sure, we have Second Life, World of Warcraft and Toy Story 3D, but the truly immersive user interface that is virtual reality is still just a dream. There’s some promising work being done with wearable computing, but its still a long way from being able to jack your cranium straight into the net as in Neuromancer, or even hacking your optic nerve with VR goggles as in Snow Crash.
  7. AI Robot Butlers & Self-Driving Cars — I want my piña colada served to me on the veranda at the perfect temperature by a slave robot. I want to be chauffeured around the city at night in my high speed luxury electric car while it reads to me the news of the day customized to my unique interests. I want all of this and I want it all guilt free. Oh sure, I can get a Roomba to vacuum my house or a Lexus which can park itself, but that’s not really the same thing, is it.
  8. Computer Overlords — On the up side, none of the non-existent robot butlers and self-aware cars have risen up to overthrow their human oppressors and imprison them in The Matrix. We’ll call this one and #7 even.
  9. Commercial Supersonic Air Travel — We actually had this mode of travel, but lost it in 2003 with the last flight of the Concorde (although we did get a very funny semi-eponymous TV show). There is some movement to bring back supersonic commercial flights, but I suspect you’ll be buying tickets to Moon Base Alpha before you are buying supersonic airplane tickets again.
  10. Cheap, Clean, and Unlimited Energy — Nikola Tesla’s dream of free and unlimited electricity seems even more impossible today than when he first proposed it in the early 20th century. Many of the wars on this small blue marble we call home are in large or small part over energy resources. Global climate change is intrinsically linked to the ways in which we produce energy. Whether it’s gas for your car or electricity for your house, we all spend a lot of money on energy. A limitless, non-polluting, inexpensive (or even free) energy source could completely transform humanity, taking us out of the energy dark age we live in now, and leading to a true peace on Earth and good will between all mankind. That’s my wintertime wish for the future. Do you have one?

Later this week: 10 for ‘10: 10 things sci-fi promised that DID happen in (or by) 2010.

Dream Jobs You’ve Never Heard Of: Parabolic Flight Crew

In Douglas Adam’s book Life, The Universe, and Everything, he shares the secret of flying: it’s the art of learning how to “throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Tim Bailey  teaches people how to do just that:  throw themselves at the ground (in an airplane) and miss in order to fly.

Tim Bailey — Parabolic Expert

Tim Bailey — Parabolic Expert

Professionally speaking, Tim wears a lot of hats. Although his LinkedIn profile gives his job title as simply “Catalyst”, it  then lists 10 separate jobs under “Current”. To name just a few, he works on SpaceVidcast, Space Task Force, Yuri’s Night (The World Space Party), and is the co-founder and Chief Operating Office of Sky Fire Lab—an independent organization promoting space travel in the media. See a theme yet?  But if you scroll down to the bottom of his lengthy list of job titles, you will see that he is also a member of the Parabolic Flight Crew for the ZERO-G Corporation. What’s that you ask? parabolic what?

Tim’s job is the closest thing there is to being an astronaut without actually going into space. He spends his days assisting and training people in aircraft flights that simulate a microgravity environment—effectively he’s a flight attendant teaching people how to fly—and he is one of only nine people on the planet qualified to do this.

Tim has performed over 150 such flights, each with multiple parabolas—where the craft goes up and down at a steep angles to create a “weightless” free-fall environment inside—equating to over 24 hours of his life that Tim has spent unencumbered by the Earthly bonds of gravity. This has led to Tim’s unique ability to, as he puts it,  “execute some fairly bad-ass flips in any axis [x, y, and z].”

In addition to being an evangelist and trainer for manned space travel, though, Tim is also a husband and recent father. Judging by his recent Twitter posts, he spends a lot of time with his family going between  Kennedy Space Center and Disney World—a true geek dad’s paradise!

I recently chatted with Tim about his job, his work advocating for manned space travel, and his own future in space.

Read the full interview on GeekDad »

Glorious Dawn

Signifier and Signified as One!

I love it when the the signified (the thing being represnted) has multiple signifiers (things that represent it). Thus, plush toy animals I found at Target that also spell out what they are. Double simulacrum. How very PoMo.

Catching Up With JCT: Blake’s 7

Wow, I’ve been busy the last several weeks! Besides entertaining the in-laws for Thanksgiving, a presentation on Web fonts to Refresh DC, and of course my full-time job at AOL redesigning Pixcetera and teaching classes on CSS, I’m working on and finishing a few side projects. Over the next few days to warm up for a good nights writing on my new book, I’ll blog a bit about what I’m up to. Tonight! Sci-fi!

Blake’s 7 Web Site

Blake's 7 Web Site

Blake's 7 Web Site

Last Winter I was at The LA Doctor Who convention (yes, I’m a huge Doctor Who fan) and met Andrew Mark Sewell who is rebooting another one of my favorite Brit Sci-fi shows, Blake’s 7. If you are not familiar with the story, it was a great and epic space opera that I have little doubt was part of the inspiration for the awesome FireFly series. We got to talking, and I agreed to do the site.

Eight months and a lot of work later, I’m proud to announce the launch of the new Blake’s 7 Web site! There are still some details to iron out, but it’s ready to promote both the exiting audio adventures and the planned animated and live action series.

I decided to use WordPress as the CMS, something I’m doing a lot of these days, added a great flash based slide scroller called Featurific (thanks to Rich Christianson for all of his help), and then did a lot of work laying transparent PNGs with CSS. The overall effect has a lot of overlapping images and gradients seamlessly merging together.

As always, constructive criticism is appreciated.

Astronauts and Aliens Agree: Obama Has the Right Stuff!

Whether you like your science hard or with a bit of fiction on the side, Barack Obama has the Right Stuff to take America into the future. Obama has long praised and supported NASA, recognizing that it has been crippled by eight years of underfunding and programs designed for political expediency. He knows that NASA has fallen on hard times and has detailed plans for turning it around. These forward thinking policies have won him the support of many in the aerospace industry. Obama has never waivered from his promise to increase spending at NASA and has set a clear vision for its future.

Obama can take us into the Future.

Obama has the right stuff to take us into the future.

As for John McCain, despite recent comments that NASA would not fall prey to his federal spending freeze, he is now waffling on funding. Just this week, he made confusing statements that NASA would have it’s budget frozen. Given his indecisiveness, and the fact that he has not laid out any clear vision other than the same-ol-same-ol of the Bush administration, there is little doubt that a McCain administration will be no friend to space flight.

Human space-flight is vital to this country! And Barack Obama knows that. That’s why veteran astronauts like John Glenn and Bill Nelson have long endorsed him. Now former Space Shuttle astronaut Dr. Dan Barry, founder and past president of the Association of Space Explorers Rusty Schweickart, and former Space Shuttle astronaut Dr. Kathy Thornton all signed on to be Obamanauts in order to show their support for Sen. Barack Obama’s space policies.

Other Obamanauts, like the first American woman in space Sally Ride, are speaking up for Barack Obama, because they know the stakes are just too high. We need someone in the White House who can lead us into a future of peace and prosperity in space, not drag us back into the mistakes of the past. She says in her editorial:

Obama also has impressed me with his grasp of the challenges our space program faces and his agenda for where we go from here. Obama clearly understands the importance of human spaceflight and exploration.

Even noted pointy-eared alien, actor Lenord Nemoy seems to have a fondness for Obama, talking about meeting him at an event where they exchanged the hopeful Vulcan greeting “Live Long and Prosper.”

There are a lot of reasons to vote for Barack Obama, and even reasons not to vote for him. However, If you simply do not trust Barack Obama, if you are paranoid that he is not what he seems to be,  then there is little I can say to you. But I can at least ask you to open your mind for a moment and know that Obama’s vision of the future is one of hope, exploration, inclusivity, and, yes, adventure, the same vision that Gene Rodenbery had for our future in Star Trek. In Star Trek, Rodenberry asked us to believe that humanity would boldly go into space to make our own world better.

Isn’t it time we elected a president with the right stuff to get us back on the right track?

I’m an Obamanaut (And So Can You!)

Join Us!

Join Us!

A few weeks ago, my friend Tim Baily was looking for a logo to use for a new group supporting Barack Obama’s Space Exploration Policies called the Obamanauts; I immediately volunteered. We took the standard Obama “O”, then added a star field in the background and a swooshing space-ship (inspired by the old Loony Tunes cartoons with Ralph Phillips saving the earth from alien invasion.) I matched the fonts as closely as I could and then created a bumper sticker to be given out at an upcoming Obamanauts rally in Florida. It was a big hit.

If you are a US citizen, you need to consider a lot of important issues when deciding who to cast your vote for in the upcoming US Presidential Election. The economy, energy, education, health-care, and the security of this country from attack are all crucial.  Yet everyone has issues that are more important to them than others, which will often help tip your vote in favor of one or the other candidates. For myself and many others, one of the most vital issues facing the US is its place in space exploration.

Why Space Exploration? Aren’t there more pressing issues? When you think about it, America’s role in space exploration touches on the most pressing issues that are being discussed:

  • Security: We increasingly rely on satellite technology to allow us to know what is going on in the world without the need to put people into harm’s way.
  • Health-care: New medicines are being developed in zero-g laboratories that cannot be mimicked on earth.
  • Education: Space Exploration relies on an educated population, one that understands science and its role in our lives.
  • Energy: Space Exploration has always pushed the boundaries of our energy sources. In fact many of the “alternative” fuel sources today were initially developed by NASA for use in space.
  • Economy: What makes our economy strong is a secure, healthy, and well educated population that is not dependent on foreign governments for the energy that powers that economy (see above).

Compare Obama’s and McCain’s plans side by side, and I believe that you will find on all of these issues Barack Obama has the best, most forward thinking, plan.  Whereas McCain gives the same lip service to NASA that previous presidents have always given (while also ominously stressing its military importance), Obama talks about the need to fundamentally restructure an institution for the 21st century.

When I was growing up, NASA united Americans to a common purpose and inspired the world with accomplishments we are still proud of.  Today, NASA is an organization that impacts many facets of American life.  I believe NASA needs an inspirational vision for the 21st Century.  My vision will build on the great goals set forth in recent years, to maintain a robust program of human space exploration and ensure the fulfillment of NASA’s mission.  Together, we can ensure that NASA again reflects all that is best about our country and continue our nation’s preeminence in space.

Barack Obama

When I was growing up, NASA was the pride of this country. The National Air and Space Administration had taken the US and the World  to the moon and was poised for yet greater missions. Then a series of mostly Republican Administrations scaled NASA back, first removing the luster and then the pride from this important organization. Over the years, what once represented the future and greatness of the US  has increasingly become the butt of jokes.

Although we are facing difficult financial times, Obama still talks with pride about NASA and what he will do to put it back on track. This is why I am proud to tbe an Obamanaut.

If you want to be an Obamanaut, you can get bumper stickers, buttons, and T-shirts from Zazzle.

Sarah Palin: “The Flintstones was a Great Documentary!”

Flintstones: Fact ot Fiction

The Flintstones: Fact or Fiction?

Does Sarah Palin believe that human beings and dinosaurs lived side-by-side a few thousand years ago? Palin is not answering that question now; of course, right now she’s not really answering any questions without John McCain by her side to moderate. However, she is on record as wanting Creationism to be taught in American science classes. Creationism puts forward a “theory” that the universe is much younger than the figure of 12-14 billion years widely accepted by scientists and then has to do a lot of fancy foot-work to make the physical evidence fit their theory.

However, if Palin is being tight lipped on the issue, where can we go to find out about what she believes about Creationism? The Creation “Museum” was set up as an alternative to the secular museums to give fundamentalists a place to go and learn the truth about the history of the Universe. Through its exhibits, this museum puts forth the pretense that it uses the same data as secular scientists, but comes to a different conclusion:

Everyone has the same facts, but we don’t all have the same starting points. Using the Bible as your starting point, prepare to travel back 6,000 years to the dawn of creation as you enjoy the Six Days Theater. Witness the true time line of the universe unfold through the 7 C’s of History [Creation, Corruption, Catastrophe, Confusion, Christ, Cross, Consummation].
Creation Museum Web Site, Plan Your Visit

If the Republicans had put forward a candidate that did not accept that the Sun revolves around the Earth we would assume that she was a quack. Yet the same science that tells us that the Sun is only one star amongst  70 sextillion stars in the Universe also tells us that the Universe must be billions–not thousands–of years old to explain how we can see stars that are billions of light-years away.

Why do Christian Fundamentalists have to believe in a 6,000 year old Universe? They believe that their Bible is the literal truth (and I will not point out here all the inherent problems with that line of thought), therefore everything that has happened since the beginning of the Universe is in that Bible. The Young Earth Creationists (as they are known) take this one step further, claiming they can compute the age of the Universe by using that Bible as a time-line.

So, why does our best (secular) science tell us that the Universe is billions of years old? According to the Young Earth Creationists, God just made it look that way. Think about it: they are saying that the God they believe in is intentionally trying to trick us by creating a Universe that looks much older than it actually is simply to test our faith.

This is what Sarah Palin believes too, whether she will now publicly admit it or not. If she believes in the literal truth of her Bible, then she believes in a 6,000 year old Universe, she believes that dinosaurs and humans lived side-by-side, and she believes in a Universe run by a God who would deceive its creation just to prove a point.

And John McCain believes in Sarah Palin.

First Commercial Spaceship Launched – Commercial Media Ignores

A milestone in human achievement took place yesterday at 4:15 PM (PDT), but the popular press seems to have all but ignored it. Oh, I know that we are facing the greatest financial crisis this country has seen since the 1929, but surely the launch of the first privately owned space ship into Earth orbit (something that will make money in the future) is at least as worthy for reporting as Scarlett Johanson’s Canadian wedding nuptials.

With the Launch of Falcon 1 into orbit, SpaceX has fundamentally changed the playing field of space exploration. But the popular media (CNN, Fox News, Networks etc..) seem to be giving a collective yawn. This might be because the mass media outlets were caught off-guard by the success because, as Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides pointed out in her Wired Science blog, of the previous failures to launch.

However, I can’t begin to fathom this oversight running into today. Even CNN’s tech page doesn’t mention it anywhere, instead focusing on the failure of NASA to launch the shuttle and where to get free ringtones.

CORRECTION TO THE CORRECTION! Fun Film Friday: Sarah Palin and the Witchsmeller

Third times the charm! I think I’ve got the right video of Sarah Palin and the Witchsmeller this time.

Question: Can you tell the only difference between this video and the previous videos?

Answer: This one isn’t funny.

CORRECTION! Fun Film Friday: Sarah Palin and the Witchsmeller

SORRY! I copied the wrong video tag. I, of course, meant to show this clip of Sarah Palin and a Witchsmeller:

Fun Film Friday: Sarah Palin and the Witchsmeller

I found this great video of Sarah Palin meeting with a Witchsmeller!

End the War (on Science)!

Who will end the war on science?

Who will end the war on science?

ScienceDebate2008 is committed to discussing today’s most important scientific issues and the candidate’s stand on each. To go even further and allow for public feedback, ScienceDebate2008 will allow you to read each position statement and then rate McCain’s and Obama’s responses with a letter grade from A to F. There are 14 topics and a 15th open discussion topic where you can post your own question for the candidates.

With all of the events of the past few weeks in the U.S. economic markets, many vital issues  are being overlooked by the majority of voters thinking about who they want for President. Although the collapse of huge multi-national investment firms may seem important now, where the candidates stand on scientific and technology issues will have a greater impact on on your daily life in the long run.After all, Wall Street might collect wealth, but it’s science and technology that makes it.

There is little debate amongst scientists that the Bush administration has waged a war on science. This Republican administration is infamous for ignoring or undermining scientific consensus and cherry picking scientific results that support their ideology. The next administration will have to correct this trend for the US to remain a leader in the 21st century.

We need to know what the candidates say now on these issues so that we can hold them accountable later for their actions. ScienceDebate2008 places both McCain’s and Obama’s position statements side-by-side for easy comparison.

Go, vote now, and let me know what you think, and if you posted a 15th question (mine is the third in the list) tell us about it here.

The 14 topics covered are:

  1. Innovation
  2. Climate Change
  3. Energy
  4. Education
  5. National Security
  6. Pandemics/Biosecurity
  7. Genetics Research
  8. Stem Cells
  9. Ocean Health
  10. Water
  11. Space
  12. Scientific Integrity
  13. Research
  14. Health

Yuri’s Night 2009: Be a part of the Future

Yuri's Night 2009: New Site Coming Soon!

Yuri's Night 2009: New Site Coming Soon!

2009 is going to be a great year for Yuri’s Night. This will be my 4th year as the “Internet Strategist” for The World Space Party, and every year the group I work with keeps getting better. I’ve just put up the “Coming Soon” page -previewing the 2009 site design- and we will be launching with a new Web strategy in the coming months. But, we need your help!

Yuri’s Night is a volunteer and grass roots organization committed to evangelizing the importance of manned space exploration by throwing parties every April 12th to celebrate two of the pioneering events in our history: the first manned space flight of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961 and the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981.

In 2008, we had almost 200 parties world wide, ranging in size from very small to very large. Check out the Photos from Yuri’s Night 2008 to see what I mean.

If you want to work with this great organization, check out the open positions for the Global Executive Team to see what we need. For the Web support team, I especially need help this year:

  • News Editor: Someone to write and edit the news stories posted to the main site.
  • Web Developer: Someone with MySQL and PHP experience who can take on the creating a better online experience for setting up and finding parties.
  • Web Cast Manager: Someone who can find and manage the best solution so that parties around the world can broadcast their video feed.

You can apply on the Yuri’s Night Site, or email me (jason at yurisnight • net) wih any questions.