Sunday, October 28, 2007

---Critical ISS Joint Damaged, Pluto, Horses at H'ween 

Metal shavings found in ISS solar array joint

My Way News - Trouble Found on Space Station Device
They were hoping that power spikes in the drive for the newest of the solar array "ferris wheels" on the Space Station would turn out to stem from a misadjusted bolt or something. So it must have come as quite a shock when astronauts on the latest EVA removed insulation from the joint assembly, and found it critical parts covered in metallic grit. The current wishful thinking about the grit being flakes of aluminum from the metalized mylar insulation must be tempered by accounts of discoloration of some parts of the giant drive gears for the 10 ft.-diameter joint:
SPACE.com -- NASA Eyes Worrisome Debris in Space Station Joint
The only upside I can see is that when the Russians become sole residents of the ISS in 2010, it’ll very likely be a “fixer upper”.

Update 10-29:
SPACE.com -- NASA Eyes Delayed Shuttle Launch, New Spacewalk Plans
After the EVA, the sample of shavings found in the solar array mast joint was found by the STS crew to be magnetic---almost certainly steel from the bearings or their races.

SPACE.com--Keck Pluto-Charon
Here’s the best ground-based photo so far of mini-planet (?) Pluto and it’s moon, Charon. If nobody goobered anything up too badly, New Horizons should get much more detail in a few years.

But seriously....

Horse costume
Just in time for H’ween. Should not be viewed while drinking milk or really fizzy soda.


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Sunday, October 14, 2007

---On Science 

1 Corinthians 2
14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
---Can't make this stuff up....

My Way News - Techies Ponder Computers Smarter Than Us
I really thought the idea of a "technological singularitly" was just a science fiction thing. My only prior contact with "Singularitarianism" was a recurring gag from the webcomic "Dresden Codak". (The protagonist explicates at length about the “technological singularity”, and the “post-singularity” world, and one of the secondary characters says, “Sounds awfully religious coming from an atheist”. )

But, of course,
it couldn’t be that easy. It turns out that the whole “Technological Singularity” thing is a subject of actual debate in the scienterrific community. The “Singularity” is described as a point in human development when our machines get smarter than we are, and the augmented species---or its successor---becomes capable of indefinite “self improvement”.

One of the
conference participants in the AP story says that "His greatest fear...is that a brilliant inventor creates a self-improving but amoral artificial intelligence that turns hostile." (He’s right, of course. It would be better—relatively speaking---for any number of rogue states to get nuclear weapons than for anyone on the planet to acquire such a monstrous technology. )

So, are science and technology precursors of our destruction, or the salvation of human-kind enslaved in the darkness of mysticism? (Okay, not a very good rendition of a "steampunk" soliloquy, but I'm not really trying very hard. )

There have been any number of efforts at imagining scientific or humanistic "religions", including Asimov's "Foundation" and Card's "Speakers for the Dead". The computer game “Civilization 4” optimistically renders all the trappings of religion---such as temples and priests----obsolete with the initial advent of the “scientific method”. Less optimistic speculations about the technological “tipping point” include the “Terminator” movies and the various animated “Ghost in the Shell” series (which are so incomprehensible---especially in the English translations---that they are usually at least half explication).

Then there’s the relevant entry from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy---“The Universe”:
There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.There is another theory which states that this has already happened. [Preface, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” ISBN: 0345418921]
All humor aside, the Guide is beginning to seem prophetic. Just look at this stuff! Eeek! Quantum entanglement! Yike! Properties that only exist when you measure them! Ulp! Superstrings! Extra Dimensions! Infinite parallel universes, where infinite yous and mes (okay, I’m also not a physicist, or a grammarian) branch into different realities every time wes (!) make a choice! Glurfle! Oh, forget it.....

Study the Universe intently enough, and it has sprung into bizarre existence from a geometric point, for which we daren’t try to assign a purpose lest we be ostracized for getting “all religious”. Keep staring, and it isn’t just flying apart from a primordial explosion, it’s accelerating away from its origin point faster and faster because of “a whole bunch of stuff we can’t see”!

Huh? Cosmological Constant?! We’re studying this in the first place because our Universe “just happens” to have a CC that promotes the development of biological molecules, complex lifeforms, and finally sentient life? Don’t, however, think to suggest that the Universe was “designed” to produce life, or people will get uncomfortable. Silly “Intelligent Design”-ers!

As long as we contemplate notions about complex, self-aware beings springing into existence (Oh, I forgot about “Boltzmann Brains”, but never mind.) as a consequence of a pseudo-mystical convergence of statistical properties that would make a shaman or a Cargo Cultist roll on the floor laughing at our gullibility, or as long as we jump under a desk or quote obscure Hindu scriptures whenever anyone asks “why?”, we will be wasting time we are going to need to answer The Greatest Question in Science:

Is this stuff for real, or is someone making fun of us?

It wouldn’t be the first time that sentient beings who came to depend on their own capacity for understanding came out looking foolish. This is because the things we have been intensely inspecting and investing in and wasting our lives on are fantasy, while the things of God are reality.

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