Tags: science

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Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Could we reboot a modern civilisation without fossil fuels? | Aeon Essays

Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels?

This thought experiment leads to some fascinating conclusions.

So, would a society starting over on a planet stripped of its fossil fuel deposits have the chance to progress through its own Industrial Revolution? Or to phrase it another way, what might have happened if, for whatever reason, the Earth had never acquired its extensive underground deposits of coal and oil in the first place? Would our progress necessarily have halted in the 18th century, in a pre-industrial state?

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

This wide-ranging essay by Nick Nielsen on Centauri Dreams has a proposition that resonates with my current talk about evaluating technology:

Science produces knowledge, but technology only selects that knowledge from the scientific enterprise that can be developed for practical uses.

Then there’s this:

The most remarkable feature of how we got from the origins of our species to the complex and sophisticated civilization we have today is that, with few exceptions, none of it was planned. Technology was not planned; civilization was not planned; industrialization was not planned; the internet was not planned.

Saturday, March 11th, 2017

[1701.01109] Fast Radio Bursts from Extragalactic Light Sails

We examine the possibility that Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) originate from the activity of extragalactic civilizations. Our analysis shows that beams used for powering large light sails could yield parameters that are consistent with FRBs.

I’m guessing Paul Gilster may have thoughts on this.

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Edge of darkness: looking into the black hole at the heart of the Milky Way | Science | The Guardian

Building a planet-sized telescope suggests all sorts of practical difficulties.

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Winston Churchill’s essay on alien life found : Nature News & Comment

Churchill, as it turns out, had some pretty solid ideas on SETI.

Churchill was a science enthusiast and advocate, but he also contemplated important scientific questions in the context of human values. Particularly given today’s political landscape, elected leaders should heed Churchill’s example: appoint permanent science advisers and make good use of them.

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

The Computational Foundation of Life | Quanta Magazine

Philip Ball certainly has a way with words.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Stuff in Space

A gorgeous visualisation of satellites in Earth orbit. Click around to grasp the scale of the network.

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Calling Bullshit

A proposed syllabus for critical thinking: Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.

Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

Practical tools and case studies are also provided.

Monday, January 16th, 2017

Bring on the Flood · thewalrus.ca

Most of these dystopian scenarios are, after all, post-apocalyptic: the bad thing happened, the tension broke, and now so much less is at stake. The anxiety and ambivalence we feel toward late-stage capitalism, income inequality, political corruption, and environmental degradation—acute psychological pandemics in the here and now—are utterly dissolved. In a strange, wicked way, the aftermath feels fine.

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

How E.T. Really Called Home (PDF)

A 1983 article from 73 Magazine on the surprisingly plausible Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson device created by E.T. to call home.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017

Stargazing Live, 2017 : Outreach : Physics and Astronomy : University of Sussex

There’s going to be an evening of astro events out at Sussex University next Wednesday, January 18th. Stargazing, an inflatable planetarium, and the Ensonglopedia of science—fun for all the family!

Friday, January 6th, 2017

From Tape Drives to Memory Orbs, the Data Formats of Star Wars Suck (Spoilers) | Motherboard

As always with sci-fi interfaces, the important part is telling the story, not realism or accuracy. Personally, I liked the way that the World War II trappings of Rogue One extended to communications and networking technologies.

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Contact

I left the office one evening a few weeks back, and while I was walking up the street, James Box cycled past, waving a hearty good evening to me. I didn’t see him at first. I was in a state of maximum distraction. For one thing, there was someone walking down the street with a magnificent Irish wolfhound. If that weren’t enough to dominate my brain, I also had headphones in my ears through which I was listening to an audio version of a TED talk by Donald Hoffman called Do we really see reality as it is?

It’s fascinating—if mind-bending—stuff. It sounds like the kind of thing that’s used to justify Deepak Chopra style adventures in la-la land, but Hoffman is deliberately taking a rigorous approach. He knows his claims are outrageous, but he welcomes all attempts to falsify his hypotheses.

I’m not noticing this just from a short TED talk. It’s been one of those strange examples of synchronicity where his work has been popping up on my radar multiple times. There’s an article in Quanta magazine that was also republished in The Atlantic. And there’s a really good interview on the You Are Not So Smart podcast that I huffduffed a while back.

But the most unexpected place that Hoffman popped up was when I was diving down a SETI (or METI) rabbit hole. There I was reading about the Cosmic Call project and Lincos when I came across this article: Why ‘Arrival’ Is Wrong About the Possibility of Talking with Space Aliens, with its subtitle “Human efforts to communicate with extraterrestrials are doomed to failure, expert says.” The expert in question pulling apart the numbers in the Drake equation turned out to be none other than Donald Hoffmann.

A few years ago, at a SETI Institute conference on interstellar communication, Hoffman appeared on the bill after a presentation by radio astronomer Frank Drake, who pioneered the search for alien civilizations in 1960. Drake showed the audience dozens of images that had been launched into space aboard NASA’s Voyager probes in the 1970s. Each picture was carefully chosen to be clearly and easily understood by other intelligent beings, he told the crowd.

After Drake spoke, Hoffman took the stage and “politely explained how every one of the images would be infinitely ambiguous to extraterrestrials,” he recalls.

I’m sure he’s quite right. But let’s face it, the Voyager golden record was never really about communicating with an alien intelligence …it was about how we present ourself.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

Is Children of Men 2016’s Most Relevant Film? — Vulture

Ten years on from Afonso Cuarón’s masterpiece.

SF Mistressworks | women science fiction writers

Reviews of twentieth century science fiction novels and anthologies by women writers.

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Megatelescope releases its first image: Physics Today: Vol 69, No 12

A lovely piece of design fiction imagining a project where asteroids are shaped and polished into just the right configuration to form part of an enormous solar-system wide optical telescope.

Once they are deployed in space, a celestial spiderweb of crisscrossed laser beams can push around clouds of those microscopic optical sensors to desired locations.

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

BLIND : Rogue One

The on-screen interfaces for Rogue One have just the right retro feel next to those for The Force Awakens.

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Visualizing the Alien: A Hollywood Conundrum

Compare and contrast Alien, Starship Troopers, and The Thing with 2001 and Roadside Picnic (and I would throw Solaris into the mix).

Plugging in a monster moves a plot right along, of course, but if that’s all it’s doing, the plot is neglecting to examine how a real biosphere would work. That would be a sensationally complex task, but given the amount of research now going on in astrobiology and exoplanetary science, the suspicion here is that experts could be summoned who could produce such a film. Even so, there is something to be said for not seeing aliens.

Rogue One: an ‘Engineering Ethics’ Story — SciFi Policy

This article examines what I thought was the most interesting aspect of Rogue One—the ethical implications for technologists.

Don’t dismiss this essay just because it’s about a Hollywood blockbuster. Given the current political situation, this is deeply relevant.