Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Signal Watch Reads: The Martian, Andy Weir (audiobook)

I guess back in January, my pal Paul suggested I read The Martian (2011) by Andy Weir.  I know this because I keep a list of books I've read mixed with a list of suggestions I've taken seriously, and I do write down who made the suggestion.



When the trailer hit for the soon-to-be-in-theaters Ridley Scott directed version of The Martian, it was absolutely the sort of thing I like seeing, and I got pretty excited.  I was a big fan of Interstellar, and I even really liked Gravity, warts and all.  And as much as I like strange visitors from other worlds-type scientifiction, I also get pretty jazzed about fictional takes or speculative takes on plain old science and technology.  Mix that with the space program, like the two movies I just mentioned, and you've sold a couple of tickets to the occupants of my household.

You've got a few weeks before the movie arrives, and I highly recommend checking out the book prior to the film's release.  It's not that I think Matt Damon and Co. will do a bad job - I'm a big fan of Damon (have you seen the Bourne movies?).  It's that the book is really good and reads really fast.  I'd started the book just over a week ago, and recommended it to Jamie.  She started and finished it all today.  So, there's a context clue for you (and she also cleaned out the cupboard.  I think she bent time.).

I listened to the audiobook, which takes longer, of course, but it more than filled the commute and back I had to Arlington, Texas this week.

If you haven't seen the trailer - and I'm not spoiling anything - an astronaut is delivering his first log entry after an accident occurred during an emergency evacuation of a Mars mission.  He'd been stuck through by part of a loose antenna in a wind storm, and then blown over a hill, his suit's life signs reading nil.  Of course, he wasn't dead, but the crew was forced to leave him, and now he's stuck on Mars, with no way to contact home, the next mission coming to the planet in 4 years, and only enough supplies for 6 people for about a month.

And yet, it's the most optimistic book I've read in years.  Maybe ever.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Happy Birthday, Neil Armstrong - Reboot the Suit


Today marks the birthday of Neil Armstong, the first human to step foot on The Moon.

Next time you're feeling cocky, just remember, Neil Armstrong walked on that shiny thing up there that's affecting the tides and spawning werewolves.

I know Armstrong passed years ago, but why not get him a present?  He got you one.  He went to THE MOON.

There's a Kickstarter going on that's already reached it's financial goal.  The Smithsonian is raining funds to restore the spacesuit Neil Armstrong wore wandering around on THE MOON.

Now they're in stretch goals, and the big one is to raise funds to restore the Mercury suit for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.

Restored, we'll all be able to see these suits down at the Air and Space Museum in DC.  Already a pretty fantastic place, but who wouldn't want to see even better space displays?  And see the very suits of America's real life heroes?

Sure, you aren't helping some dweeb from BFE fund their dream project of a Yu-Gi-Oh fan film, but you are, you know, supporting things that actually matter and aren't a waste of time and resources.  I mean, just...   ugh.

If you're wondering why the Smithsonian needs to go to Kickstarter...  well, (a) it's a publicly funded institution, and we haven't been great about funding public institutions the past decade or so, and (b) what money they do have could also be allocated to work on less high-profile items as well as the suit, so you're making the Smithsonian budget go farther (further?).

Here's that link again.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sci-Fi Sunday: Forbidden Planet and 2001: A Space Odyssey

It's Sci-Fi movie day on Turner Classic Movies, and I'm doing some encoding of home videos and watching of movies on cable.

I first saw Forbidden Planet during the Paramount Summer Film Series, probably around 97' or 98'.  With my buddy Matt, come to think of it.

None of this ever really happens in the movie, but, whatevs...

They tell me the movie is a sci-fi version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, but I have no idea.  I've never seen or read it.  But I have seen Forbidden Planet about seven or eight times, and every time, I like it better.  Sure, it stars Leslie Nielsen of Naked Gun fame in a dramatic role, which is weird, but it's such a great bit of its time and a snapshot of exploration sci-fi that is a now-kind-of-dead genre (and if you can't see the direct impact on Star Trek, you aren't paying attention).

The visual and audio FX in this movie make it an amazing experience, with the debut of Robbie the Robot, Krell architecture, amazing sets, spaceships, matte backgrounds that are truly massive and alien.  And even the hand-drawn animation of the Id Monster holds up amazingly well, in its way.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

We Salute Mythbusters as they enter their 10th Season

I often forget to mention that I watch Mythbusters nigh religiously.

Yes, they blow things up real good in most episodes.  Yes, I am curious about what happens when you throw a car in a swimming pool, or jump at the last second in a falling elevator, or try to maximize gas mileage or park a car behind the exhaust of a 747, drop a car from a helicopter or blow up a cement truck, just 'cause...  The show raises questions I didn't know I had, then answers them pretty thoroughly.  Even if, in an early episode, they got that whole thing about sodas exploding in one's car wrong.*

Adam has aged, but Jamie is eternal
No doubt the mix of personalities keeps the show working, and the dichotomy of Jamie and Adam's approaches always an object lesson in how even two people who know each other well can have completely different ways of solving a problem.  And, of course, we all love the build team and you should really follow them on Twitter.  They're pretty amusing.

It may not be perfect science, but the progam aims to demystify science and engineering, and therefore, perhaps, demystifies the world through some of the steps of the experimentation (and less often, the scientific) method.  Evidence is reviewed.  Hypotheses and ideas are considered and explained (including why some options are cast aside), and small scale testing of components is shown.  As the full experiment is built to, math is shown, explanations of physics are all brought down to a consumer level.  And if the myth doesn't go off as planned, in recent years, Mythbusters has gone on to find what they think would be required to replicate the scenario described in the myth.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Your Questions Answered: 3D Printing

Marshall asks:

What do you think of 3-D printers? Are you excited? Do you have plans? Or do you think, "Oh, man I don't even...that's for kids of kids to enjoy but I ain't got time to worry about it."


What a fantastic and unexpected question.

In 1999 I was working in a multimedia/ video production office and we were helping produce a video for a faculty going for an NSF grant.  He was helping to develop a process that, at the time, was called "Solid Freeform Fabrication", I believe.  I stood there and watched the process happen (well, watched it on the monitor), and couldn't understand how this was happening, how it was possible.

It was an amazing technology, watching parts within parts rise from a sea of dust on the power of lasers and engineering.  It was like a special FX sequence but it was happening in front of me, just one of many terrific sci-fi as life moments that I experienced working in the College of Engineering (nuclear reactors, robots, super computers...  it was always something new and bizarre).  But I didn't really understand the implications until recent times when it seems that this technology will move out of corporate environments and could soon be consumer-grade stuff.

Like the distribution of media via electronic means or the coming change in education, I'm watching with bated breath.  Self-produced manufactured goods is the next game changer.  In fifteen years, kids will draw their ideas for toys into an app and print their own action figures.  We won't go to the store to buy certain or, perhaps, many items... we'll just buy the design online based on ratings and print up that thing at home.  We'll have access to things imagined by weird people who never wanted to be mechanical engineers, but they've had an idea and refined it and now it's just out there in the sea of ideas.  Maybe you'll buy a portable battery device to make it work.  It's the @#$%ing Diamond Age.

It's going to have us ready to similarly work with and feel comfortable with other technologies that enable us to generate and design technologies at home.  3D printing today, matter converters tomorrow.  Making iPhone Apps is going to seem like rubbing two sticks together for a spark.

I was extremely ecstatic until someone mentioned that guy who was putting designs online for making guns, and suddenly I got a lot less excited.  If you can print up a gun, what else are you going to print up?  A drone to fly that gun into my living room?

None of this means I think we need to control 3D printers or have some sort of government oversight on printing, but it dissolves the supply chain that could be interrupted to keep some items out of the hands of folks who wouldn't normally be licensed to have military assault weapons.  Between you and me, I don't want 13 year-olds printing up M-16s before their parents come home from work.

Let's them them print up nunchucks and shuriken, though, because every kid should have those.

So, yeah, stuff is going to get real complicated with this amazing new power we're giving ourselves.

For me...  well, I lack imagination.  I don't know what I'd print out immediately.  A lifesize bust of our own Randy?  A Theodore Roosevelt action/ adventure playset?  I don't know.

But as these things become accessible and better, I look forward to how it will create opportunity for artists, for inventors, engineers, scientists, kids... all of us, I guess.


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown

author's note:  2012 is a year I have been looking to put behind me for quite a while for any number of reasons.  Obviously the events in my personal life marked a very sad end to the year for us at our house.  Perhaps we should declare 2012 Annus Horribilis and move on.

With recent events weighing so heavily on me right now (and with this post started a long, long time ago), I'm going to stick to pop culture and the original, intended tone of the post - and this blog - and take a look back instead at...  yeah, I guess comics and whatnot.

here we go.


The 2012 Not-a-List Rundown




My Totem for Everything About my Pop Culture Hobbies in 2012

My relationship fundamentally changed with my hobbies and past-times, and superhero comics have begun to dip below the horizon to the same place Star Wars went circa 2002.  Because of travelling and the fact I was sick a lot this year, I also didn't really make it out to the movies very often.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Some interesting stuff in Action Comics #14 on Wednesday!

Quick Superman related notes...

I wasn't off the plane yet and was checking email, and got a note from CanadianSimon about this week's release of Action Comics #14.  Apparently - it guest stars my favorite media-savvy scientist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson!  

NDG pops up in a lot of documentaries, is the host of Nova Science Now! and his podcast, StarTalk.  He also attended UT for a while, but did not feel it suited him and left.

Here he is rolling up his sleeves to go to work, side-by-side with Superman!

Man, someone really talented flatted that page
Oh, by the way, local artist and colorist, Jordan Gibson, did some work on that story!  He is the "flatter" on the art, which means he did some coloring work on this back-up feature.  Jordan is a huge Superman nut, and I'm totally thrilled he's getting an opportunity to see his work in Action Comics.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Felix Baumgartner Space Jumps into the History Books

I had tried to watch this guy, Felix Baumgartner, jump several times, and he kept getting delayed.  So I was quite pleased when PalMatt posted to Facebook that Felix was about to jump yesterday.  I tuned in just as he was about to exit the capsule.

Holy @#$%

In case you missed it, Austrian Felix Baumgartner attached a capsule to some balloons, went up 24 miles above Roswell, New Mexico, and then tossed himself out and over the side of the capsule with naught but a parachute between himself and the record for largest crater formed by a human body.

It was AMAZING.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong Merges with The Infinite

Astronaut Neil Armstrong, possibly the most well known of all astronauts, has passed at the age of 82.





Armstrong was part of the Apollo 11 team that reached the moon, and was the first human to cross the great void and touch foot to moon soil.

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

Armstrong's family on his passing:

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request: Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.

That's a pretty damn good epitaph.

Godspeed, sir.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride Merges With The Infinite

I am very sad to say that Sally Ride has passed at the age of 61 after fighting pancreatic cancer.



Sally Ride was not the first name of an astronaut I knew or heard (the first name I really remember is John Glenn.  I think the KareBear liked the cut of his jib or something).  But something about Ride stuck with me not just because she was the first woman in space, but because she felt always seemed like the embodiment The Modern Space Program.  She rode shuttles, not capsules.  She wore the blue jumpsuit.  She was a pilot, a space jockey and a scientist.  She was the Shuttle era and the promise it held.

We all grew up proud of the name Sally Ride, but it wasn't until I was older that I appreciated how amazing Ride must have been to actually win that seat on Challenger and the pressure on her to not just be as capable of her male colleagues, but much more capable lest anyone seize the opportunity to hold her up as an example of why giving her a chance was a mistake.  I cannot begin to imagine.

And Ride pulled it off.

She succeeded not just at NASA, but went on to teach at UC-San Diego, formed a company to create educational materials for young scientists, and served as a consultant in aerospace and defense arenas.

Here's to one of the real pioneers of the era in which I was raised.  You will be missed.

Godspeed.



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Neil DeGrasse-Tyson Helps Confirm What I Already Knew

That the original USS Enterprise is an amazing starship.



thanks to Jordan for the video and link.

Apparently this was a fun panel at SDCC 2012 in which a bunch of folks have a sort of spirited but mock debate over whether this or that geek item is better. Tyson was attending the Con, but he was simply attending in the audience for this panel. However, one does not simply just have Neil Tyson in the room and not have him weigh in on matters of import such as "which spaceship is the coolest?".

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Alan Poindexter Merges with the Infinite

Astronaut Captain Alan Poindexter has died in a water craft accident.

There is an article on his death here.


Poindexter served with NASA for over a decade and served as Pilot for Shuttle Atlantis and Commander for Shuttle Discovery.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Signal Reads: 2001 - A Space Odyssey

Because as a kid I liked SPACE, the old man took me to whatever movies were out that featured people slipping free of the bonds of Earth's gravity.  And so it came to pass that he said "We can go see 2010, but I don't think you'll like it.  I've seen the first movie, and this isn't going to be The Last Starfighter."

"Ok," I said.  "I still want to go."

And so it passed that I saw 2010 in the theater and had to have The Admiral explain 2001 to me on the way home.  No, it did not have the visceral thrill of the sci-fi adventures I adored, but I had already seen Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so slow moving sci-fi epics were not outside my scope.  



Perhaps tellingly, very few kids in my grade saw 2010, but all of us in the special nerd math class I was in during 4th grade had seen it and thought it keen.  We also all agreed that Star Trek wasn't properly appreciated, so, you know, there was precedent.  In short - kid nerds of the 1980's.

About two years after 2010, The Admiral and Jason rented 2001 and watched it while I was out of the house.  A bit peeved I'd been left out, I sat down the next day and watched the first half of 2001 by myself until Jason wandered back into the house and finished watching it with me.  

So, yeah, its been a long time in coming that I finally decided to get a bit more of my nerd bonafides and purchased the audiobook of Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

According to Clarke's forward to the audiobook, done in 2000 as we neared the actual year 2001, the book was written basically for Stanley Kubrick so he'd have something to use when he made a sci-fi movie that wasn't, in the filmmaker's estimation, a whole lot of hoo-ha.  And it is interesting to compare and contrast Kubrick's film with the novel, which is written in the very literal terms of mid-20th Century Sci-Fi, and does not contain the ethereal feel or the explanation-by-implication that can leave some viewers feeling stranded in the film's last 20-30 minutes.  



Despite the fact that script and novel were co-developed, there are some differences, including Discovery's destination (Saturn in the novel) and an explicit explanation of HAL's malfunctioning.  

Frankly, I very much enjoyed the book and I'm glad I "read" it after all this time.   The themes of the novel and film reflect very much upon how I personally consider what it means for human beings to continue to look at space as a possibility, which is either because of Kubrick's influence or because I watched too much Trek as a kid.  



The audiobook, by the way, is extremely brief, running under 7 hours.  There's something to how long something like Stranger in a Strange Land runs, and how much information was shared, or how much story was necessary (that audiobook ran about 22 hours, I think), and the impact possible on the reader.  

In comparison to the Barsoom novels I'm also currently reading, well, its more or less two different ends of the spectrum from this genre we call "science fiction".  And with Clarke's scientific high mindedness, even the mystery of the cosmos that Kubrick puts forth gets a near unlimited omniscient narrator's explanation we'd never get from just the visuals of the film, draining away some of the mystery (or confirming what you thought Kubrick was suggesting).  

Its a wonderful novel, and if you can deal with some of the dated concepts and the deadpan characterization of David Bowman, Heywood Floyd and Frank Poole, there's a lot to like if you've never read the book.  Particularly HAL's characterization.  

I should mention, the HAL-related stuff is far less important to the book than the movie, and acts more as a fulcrum toward making a point about men, machines and the perils of both (especially a billion miles from home).

Anyone else read the book?  Thoughts?


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Transcendent Man (2009)

I really wish I had seen this movie when it came out, but it was just recommended to me by Co-Worker Ladd this morning.

As much as I like a good, Thunderdomish Dystopian look at the future, from a technology and academic standpoint, I fall much more in the camp of pointing at the shinier spacecraft and rocket pack visions of the future.  Prepping for a time of Robot Shock Troopers tends to make you start stocking ammunition and buying property in Queen Creek, Arizona, and I'm just not ready to cut the sleeves off all my camo jackets yet, and I look terrible in a crazy-man beard.

In fact, I like my job partially because its all about the future where we get flying cars and can download dissertations directly into our noggins.  Digital libraries!  Hoorary!



It seems that technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil showed up as SXSWi 2012, and Co-Worker Ladd (yes, his name is Ladd) managed to see him speak.  Kurzweil is one of those names I've heard on and off for two decades, not quite the way you hear of Tim Berners-Lee, but he pops up on BoingBoing and is a name that technology hipsters tend to throw around.

Frankly, I should pay a lot more attention to these sorts of figures, because Kurzweil's personal innovations are incredible, even if that's not really the topic of the documentary, Transcendent Man (2009).  Instead, the doc follows Kurzweil as he moves around the planet as a bit of a Conference Personality, but as he also meets with figures from Colin Powell to William Shatner to an arena full of Church of Christ Conference attendees discussing the concept of The Singularity.*

As we all know, technology is advancing from all angles in ways predicted clumsily by Moore's Law.  What Kurzweil is looking at and discussing is that its not just processing power, but other technologies, falling into three areas of interest:  Genetics (bioinformatics), Nantotechnology and Robotics (or AI).  The Singularity is a point at which those things hit a point on the graph where the nature of humanity will be forced to change by the technologies so profoundly that it will rewrite our definitions of everything from technology to humanity to consciousness.

Basically, we're in a mad race to see if we create a race of super artificial intelligences, if we can rewrite our DNA to beat disease and aging while recreating the human body, or if nanotechnology will be merging us into machines while it has the ability to connect us to the super robot brains while rewriting our bodies into all looking like Fabio in 1994.  Or will we upload our consciousness to Facebook?

Here's the thing:  I think I know just enough about technology and SCIENCE to know I don't know anything, but I also tend to think that Kurzweil, while maybe jumping the gun on the timing, is probably right.

I intended to watch part of the show this evening and then return to it, but instead I watched the entire thing, slack jawed and in awe.  The movie manages to find genius after genius, players at the tops of their fields who all have different reasons to agree or disagree with Kurzweil in whole or in part, and its an absolutely gripping 80 minutes or so.  Especially as the director humanizes and builds a portrait of Kurzweil (a seemingly approachable gentleman, certainly) and digs into the basis for his quest and to see what drives him.

There are a tremendous number of questions occurring in the film, the sorts of things that have the longterm effects of global change, all without the pressure cooker or drive of a Manhattan Project.  Its happening now, and the minds pushing toward the future seem aware of the pitfalls and risks of the world they're creating, and seem to be sure that somebody else is going to deny the dinosaurs their Lysine.  Its absolutely riveting stuff.  And, again, this is a documentary.

The crowd that drifts into this blog is pretty smart and tech savvy, and I'd love to see what you guys have to say, if you've seen it or you get a chance to stream it from Netflix.

Highly, highly recommended.


*see my hilariously uninformed argument with my brother about the concept at his blog post from about a year ago.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I still love "The Fantastic Voyage"

On Saturday morning Simon, his ladyfriend Leta and I will made our way down to the Alamo South Lamar for a screening of The Fantastic Voyage (1966).  The Alamo South hosts Kids' Club, about once a month, and I've seen some classics like War of the Worlds as part of the series.  Frankly, its a testament to both the laziness of Austinites and the lack of interest in anything not involving beer that a free screening (FREE) starting at 11:00 AM of one of the sci-fi all-time classics wasn't better attended.

Their loss.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: Feynman

A few months ago Jim Ottaviani visited Austin during the promotional tour of his graphic novel, Feynman, a biographical sketch of famed physicist Richard Feynman.  It turns out that Jim's day job is in the field of digital libraries, and he had a sort of informal chat at the library, where it turned out he knew two of my colleagues from graduate school.

Its a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it.*



A few things:  

1)  I struggled mightily in high school physics and stuck with geology as much as possible in college when asked to to take science (rocks!).  My investigations into modern physics (stuff they were not teaching at my high school) have been mostly catch-as-catch can through television specials, reading articles online and this, my third comic book on physics in any way, shape or form.  I know some basic principles, I know some names, I understand that light behaves like a wave and a particle, and aside from that, I sort of stop and start with what everyone who has ever owned more than one Pink Floyd album knows about Schroedinger's Cat.  And, as I understand it, what we consider the point of the experiment is incorrect.

2)  I don't pretend like I had ever heard of Richard Feynman before this book hit the shelves.  The pop-culture aspect of science also eludes me, and so I had not read any of Mr. Feynman's books or sat about urbanely quoting the man over coffee served in a small and delicate cup.  

3)  I have a hard time remembering the basic fundamentals of physics.  Every time I return to the material, that part of my brain re-engages, and neurons re-fire, but its not something I think about very often.  Its sort of how I wrote down what the Higgs-Boson is just so I had a place to go look it up every time I needed to know while reading an article on the LHC.

My hat if off to Jim Ottaviani for his handling and structure of a book that could have been an horrendous mess.  The book is really 85% biography, 15% physics lesson in order to explain why Feynman matters to Sally Q. Reader.  As he states in the afterword, I had no doubt that Ottaviani had done his research enough to both understand and not judge the man particularly one way or another, and to internalize what Feynman was on about enough to share it with an audience as clueless about physics as myself.

Friday, July 8, 2011

This Moment in History: The Final Space Shuttle Mission

The Atlantis lifts off for the final time

My heart breaks a little knowing that its the end of the Space Shuttle era. I'd be simply nostalgic if it meant that in 2012 the X-39 or a similar program were geared up to take the place of the Shuttle Program. But, instead, for the foreseeable future we'll be taking rides on Russian rockets to visit our own space station, and remaining earthbound after a half-century of touching the cosmos, even if it was only ever a glancing touch.

We looked into the face of limitless possibility as a nation, and we blinked.

In the years to come, they'll say it was a fool's errand, and a waste of resources. I'll be an old man, and the highest aspiration for kids will have long ago quit being being "Astronaut", which will sound antiquated and sad, almost how we smirk knowingly when you imagine being referred to as a "First Mate" on a ship.

And when we're old enough, or when we're gone, they'll say it never happened (just you wait). They'll say they never had the technology, that the will of a nation to spend the resources and capitol necessary just a few decades after the Wright Brothers flew their first place and the first rockets criss-crossed the skies... it was impossible. It'll be called illogical, fantastic and a hoax, written off like the sun-chariots in carvings in Egypt. And when that's said often enough, it'll be true.

Perhaps we went to fast, too soon.  Perhaps the kids I grew up with who squirmed their way through math and science took it for granted when we got to start making the rules, and maybe we were just a little disillusioned that they'd never asked us to suit up and go.  Like everything else, maybe we thought it would always be there.

As always, all we can do is hope that the tide will turn, and one day (perhaps when we're more deserving) we'll be ready, honestly and for real this time.

Until then, I thank the scientists, engineers, visionaries, and brave women and men who suited up and saw the Earth for us, and who went as close to the stars and further and faster than any of us.



The New York Times
AP Story at The Austin American Statesman