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Friday, May 20, 2011

Some of my All-time Favorite Apocalypses.

  "Where's the 'kaboom'? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering 'Kaboom!'!" -Marvin the Martian, Looney Tunes.

  The "End of the World" has come and gone many many more times than I want to count, according to prophecies. Some people get upset at each one, but no one seems to believe them all. Then there's a part of us that wants to believe outwardly, because it's exciting and we get to see it. Inwardly, we know it's not happening. That's why people can live their daily lives when they think everything's coming to an end.

  Once in a while, mass hysteria becomes mass stupidity.


  If you know me at all, even if you didn't then, you expected this on my list. The theory was that computer clocks had a two-digit year, and no room to go after 99. People (none of whom understood how electronics worked) further speculated that if the clock's calendar were off, the device would fail to even power up. They went FURTHER to put forth all types of scenarios: power grid goes off line, nuclear reactors shut down and fail, and planes fall out of the effing sky. 

  I can't even begin to overstate the absurdity of the scenarios. Anyone who has seen any kind of two-digit counter knows that the digits start over. Anyone who thinks about it should understand that the calendar is not even a part of the computer's power-up process. Electronics don't care what the date says. They don't compare to yesterday and say "Heeey... I'm not doing anything until you explain why we're starting over!" - That kind of technology is still years away.

  I happened to be in a job involving a lot of electronics and computer repair. I was the one customers were sent to to ask questions about y2k. There was an interesting thing: people were stockpiling food and water, and making sure their devices (including one who asked about her toaster) are Y2k compliant. That became the biggest selling point of VCR's, Vacuum cleaners, lightbulbs, you name it. Which begs the question: if you think the power grid is going to fail and civilization is ending, how do you use your Y2k compliant VCR?

  Interestingly enough, people "in the know" said computers year counters would reset to "00". This was a big warning flag. The truth was, a computer's CMOS(what has the calendar/clock) had default start dates of Jan-01-1980 or Jan-01-1984. The second still makes me smile. So orwellian.

  The date came and went, people in general pretended they didn't just participate in that lunacy, and pretended they were never worried.

The Jupiter Effect

   As a very young child, I remember hearing about a day when all nine planets were aligned. People I witnessed firsthand decided this would herald the start of a new age, hence the term "New Age" that's slapped on hippie stuff.

  Whenever there's an alignment of any sort, people get all fidgety. What does it mean? In reality, nothing. In people's heads, THE END OF THE WORLD.

  I'm glad it didn't end there. The date was March 10, 1982. I would have my seventh birthday and watch the premiere of "The Greatest American Hero" 8 days later on our family's 13" Black and White TV. Provided someone wanted to go outside and turn the antenna just so.


  The first big one that really got a kick from the Internet. Again, March. The year:1997. A comet was visible to the naked eye (Hale-Bopp comet) for 18 months. That was kinda neat. Some amateur astronomer spotted a companion object in the comet's tail. People on the internet took some surreal twist of logic to conclude it was a spaceship, and Earth was to be obliterated. The Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide because they thought the spaceship would take them to paradise if they left their bodies behind.

Hometown Pride!
  This one is my favorite. The town I grew up in, Farmington, Maine, was to become the "New Jerusalem". God had apparently said no one within the town lines would ever get sick again, and all ills would be healed. So glad God respects local regulations.

The original prophecy sign rented out.
  This woman, who happens to be a Quaker, claims to channel Christ through her body. She says she sleeps, and Christ takes over, giving her a prophecy, even a novel.

  Her original date of 06-06-06 came and went. The sign changed:

No caption needed.
  I really like this one, though. It's the only "End Times" prophecy that is remotely hopeful, and if you read what the woman wrote, she seems very sincere. Of course, the town will always be special to me. MY hometown.

Honerable mention:

  Honerable mention? Yep. There is no "Mayan Doomsday" prophecy. People were learning about the Mayan calendar, and posed a question as to why it ended on that date. Speculation from doomsday freaks or people writing books to get some quick cash decided to answer the question.

  Meanwhile, while people who actually did research realized the Mayan calendar counts backwards, and the date given is simply "New Year's Eve" by that calendar. It is also only one of five countdown calendars the Mayans used.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Space Travel: Where do we go from here?

"Where do we go from here
Now that all of the children are growing up?"
                                           -Alan Parsons Project "Games People Play"

I saw the shuttle liftoff for the first time when I was 6. Little did I know that it was the first shuttle liftoff. I'm at the age in which the shuttle has always been the way to get to space, And seeing old Apollo launches with more traditional rocket-shapes brings thoughts of old, bad sci-fi movies. In July, the last-ever shuttle launch and the end of an era is upon us.

 For years I was disappointed. People walking on the effing Moon were before my time. Why are we spending our time in orbit? Then came Hubble. My dreams weren't limited to seeing people on the moon, or on Mars, or even where people go entirely. The universe, and how much we can learn, and how amazing what we learn is, were the boundaries of my dreams.

 Hubble was a miserable failure. They went back to not only fix it, they made it better. We can now see the edge of the Universe. The beginning of all existence. The images weren't as pretty as our more local Nebulae, But the beauty of what it means to be seeing the edge of the Universe. People have an innate need to know Why am I here? along with other questions people like to write nonsense that sounds good for now about. Seeing remnants of the Big Bang, the singularity from which everything came, helped me understand hippies. I felt like I was at one with everything. That goes along way toward having an understanding of our place in things.

  Technology exploded. Things got smaller and more impressive, in part from things learned from all these experiments in space no one every bothers to know about. We can see smaller. We've got subatomic things on film, breaking laws like the speed of light and time travel. At a certain size, the laws of  physics break down, and new ones take over. You can be in two places at once. You can be doing different things at the same time. Things only become "real" when observed. This lead to even more bizarre erratic behavior when you go smaller. The smallest point of existence is a quantum string. These can vibrate 6 ways in our three perceivable dimensions, plus apparently 8 others. (11 dimensions). This lead to the edge of understanding the nature of existence, and it blows my mind:

  The basis of everything is tiny strings that vibrate in certain patters. Exactly like our musical notes. The universe, time-space, everything, is an amazingly intricate Symphony of incredibly epic proportions.

  Understanding how small we are didn't make me feel insignificant. Every moment of our existence is a note in a Symphony of nearly infinite complexity, and no one note is more or less significant than any other.

  Humans have really stepped it up for one of two things: Exploration and Competition. We've advanced tons just in my own lifetime as our world and our part in it change. As a species, we like to know more, to add to our own lot in things. We find more of what there is so that we in turn have more, or we compete with others over what's there. Wars, the ultimate competitions, force us to improve and adapt. Just as much of what we take advantage of in our lives is from military research as it is the space program. Competition and Exploration, respectively.

Where am I going with this?

  The next step in space has already started. The privatization of space travel and research. People taking what's there for research, and improving on what's there for efficiency, driving the cost down to where space travel can be sold as a commodity. SpaceX winning the first ever "Space Prize" made me realize that we are on the edge of something big. There is even competition. Two companies.

  Normally, I'm not rooting for "The Corporations" any more than I am "Tha Gummyment". The government can get things done on a big scale, but they are criminally inefficient. Big companies want big bucks. This leads to bad things, but I think only when they run out of ideas. Space is so huge, there is going to be no end to improvement and new research to out-do the other guy, as much as make their own products more accessible and profitable. That's a motivation that will force at least these guys to do for the consumer for a loooong time.

  I see SpaceX and Virgin Galactic one-upping each other on what their ships can do, and NASA continuing development of the space elevator. You heard me right, at least if you read out loud.

  Graphene is a super-strong, super-light, nano-engineered form of carbon. There is to be a platform in fixed orbit around Earth, attached to the ground by a material like graphene. There will be an elevator that can ride this tether all the way into space, cutting costs from thousands of dollars per pound to about $150. Launching to space from the orbiting platform will be much easier and cost-effective.

  There's a huge amount of what we don't know out there, it's amazing just to learn some of the stuff we never even realized we didn't know.